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Binance made crypto perfume in a baffling attempt to woo women

What does crypto smell like? Ozone, salt and moss, according to Binance’s new fragrance, “CRYPTO.”

Binance is the largest crypto exchange in the world by volume, but it is facing serious challenges. The company and its co-founder, Changpeng Zhao, pled guilty to money laundering charges and agreed to pay $4.3 billion in fines to the U.S. Department of Justice. Its American arm, Binance.US, laid off two-thirds of its staff and suffered a 75% decline in trading revenues, at the time. After publication, a spokesperson shared that in February, Binance's international exchange reached its highest trade volume in six months.

Meanwhile, Binance’s marketing department is tackling a different kind of problem (one that involves less risk of fraud). To celebrate International Women’s Day, Binance launched a splashy campaign to urge women to get into crypto through the power of … fragrance.

“I think the goal of this is to be irreverent, to be fun, to try to push boundaries,” Binance CMO Rachel Conlan told TechCrunch. “While there’s always some people that will be upset, we’re confident this is opening up the discussion in the right way, and furthermore, we had an all female team that worked on this.”

Binance teased the perfume on X yesterday and received hundreds of replies, many of which said the same thing: “imagine the smell.” The refrain is derived from a lewd 4chan meme, but like Pepe the Frog, the joke has been reappropriated among crypto evangelists.

You might guess that the “CRYPTO” scent — which is also referred to as “Eau de Binance” — would smell like the final day of a tense hackathon where no one has had time to take a shower. Or maybe it smells like Sam Bankman-Fried’s jail cell. But that’s the stereotype that Conlan is trying to work against to make the crypto space seem more inclusive.

The actual scent is described as follows: “This fragrance opens with refreshing notes of ozone, salt, and moss, evoking the essence of a crisp and invigorating breeze. The heart notes reveal a luxurious blend of Oud, Mandarin, and precious woods, while the base notes of Amber, Woody, and Musk provide a warm, musky-sweet, and earthy aroma, exuding sophistication.”

Say what you want about “Eau de Binance,” but it beats the crypto industry’s contribution to International Women’s Day in 2022, when Bain Capital Crypto announced its new investment team by enthusiastically posting a collage of seven men. But even as more women enter the industry, the crypto sphere has struggled to shake the stench of a men’s locker room. Boston Consulting Group found that only 7% of web3 founders are women, and among top crypto startups, 27% of employees are women. That gender disparity extends to crypto investors as well.

Binance made about 100 bottles of the perfume, which isn’t actually for sale — instead, women can sample the scent at pop-ups at a mall in Bahrain. It seems like a stretch that getting a perfume sample of “CRYPTO” while shopping will change a woman’s mind about investing in digital assets. But Conlan argues that the activation is cheeky. The absurdity of the perfume is supposed to lure people in (“imagine the smell”), while the underlying promotion is that the first 5,000 women who complete a beginner course on Binance Academy will earn $25 in USDT.

In conversation with Conlan, I asked if she worries that the campaign may seem like it flattens women into a stereotype, implying that women are only interested in hyper-feminized things like perfume and shopping. I told her that I don’t wear perfume, and I don’t know many women who do. But Conlan makes the point that fragrances are more culturally prevalent in Europe and the Middle East, where she is based.

“The last thing I’d want for this is to be patronizing. What I want is to be tongue-in-cheek,” Conlan said. “We’ve framed a lot of crypto as being by the bros, the crypto bros, a very male-dominated space. So this is about being a little bit more tongue-in-cheek and teasing with the satirical, and about borrowing from the codes of the fragrance industry and the beauty industry, of things that grab attention.”

If this really is satirical as Conlan says, then the success of the satire depends on what Binance is actually making fun of. Is this perfume a genuine attempt to get women to learn more about finance, and if so, what does that marketing strategy say about the company's view of women? When it comes to gender diversity in finance, the solution is not as simple as a spray bottle of essential oils. But the messaging gets confused such that the idea of crypto perfume can come across as patronizing more than as funny.

“We really wanted to play with the emotional with this,” she said. “What does that memory of your first step into crypto evoke and make you feel?”

It’s hard to get past the idea that what women really need to overcome sexism in tech is a whiff of Eau de Binance. But Conlan’s intentions seem genuine, if easily misinterpreted.

“We’re not just in this for once a year when we announce a new data point or a new campaign,” she said. “This is something that we’re very passionate about as a company, and something we feel strongly that’s going to make the industry better. The more women we bring in to work professionally here, the more products are going to be designed with men and women in mind.”

Update, 3/6/23, 10:30 AM ET to clarify that Binance.US experienced layoffs and declines in trading volume, and to add additional information about Binance's international trade volume.