In brief

  • Dogecoin has exploded in the wake of the GameStop short squeeze.
  • Meme-centric billboards have been popping up across the country.
  • Who’s behind them and why do they do it? We spoke to some of them to find out.

Times Square is a terrible place—an oppressive, blue-lit canyon defined by the perennial blare of ad slogans and looming mascots. You know the brands because they’re always the same: Coca-Cola, Netflix, Disney, M&M. But last week, a different sort of figure appeared in Times Square, one conspicuously untethered to corporate interests: a visitor in the form of Doge—the wide-eyed Shiba Inu that’s been a meme for the better part of the past decade—on a small screen above the 45th street Polo store.

Just above the image was an imperative: “Buy $DOGE.”

This was an ad was for Dogecoin, the cryptocurrency that’s become a favorite of Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets message board in the wake of January’s monumental short squeeze—a communal effort to pump the price of ailing stocks like GameStop, AMC, Nokia, and Blackberry, which resulted in at least one hedge fund bailout. 

Launched in 2013 as a kind of Bitcoin parody, Dogecoin has never been considered a serious investment. Billy Markus, DogeCoin’s co-creator, has called the entire concept “absurd,” a self-consciously ridiculous monetary system pegged to nothing at all. But it’s precisely this quality that’s made it attractive to the traders of r/wallstreetbets, who prize irony over practicality, and whose viral posts were directly responsible for those huge spikes in Gamestop’s stock price. 

That same populist, meme-driven animus sent the value of Dogecoin up nearly 10X in the early days of February. And last week, the denizens of the r/wallstreetbets and r/dogecoin subreddits began promoting the coin across the country, with billboards in places like Sacramento, St. Louis, and Winter Haven, FL.

The Times Square billboard came courtesy of Dillon Ward, a teenager from Augusta, GA; @DogeCoinDolla, the handle on the ad, is a Twitter account he made to promote it.

Ward, who works at a car wash, got involved with Dogecoin after being swept up in the Reddit stock craze. He told Decrypt that it was a post on r/wallstreetbets, about a billboard promoting GameStop stock, that inspired him to buy his own. “Many people wanted me to do it and said I should do it for the Doge community, so I did,” he said.

It is concerningly easy to put an independent ad on a Times Square billboard. Ward used a company called Blip, which rents ad space in timed segments; upload an image, and after a short approval period, your hastily-generated message (political or not—Blip allows both) is suddenly being projected out into the world. The website estimates that this particular billboard is viewed 864,384 daily.

Johneric Kindred, a 30-year-old healthcare worker in Long Beach, CA, paid for a similar ad near the headquarters of SpaceX, the private aerospace company operated by Elon Musk. Musk has semi-ironically backed the coin on Twitter, calling it “the people’s crypto,” and his posts tend to cause wild swings in the market; the price nearly broke through to a new all-time high after yesterday’s tweet:

For Kindred, Musk’s advocacy has become an integral part of the appeal. The billboard, which ran intermittently last week from Tuesday through Friday, was directly addressed to him. And like Ward’s ad, it was mostly just text: 

Mr. Musk buy
ownership of dogecoin
Please, JEKindred562 🙂

This wobbly pseudo-haiku was Kindred’s attempt to bolster the pump. He told Decrypt that he bought in at around $0.027 (the price is now $0.722), and that the idea for the billboard came to him during a shift in the ER at Southern California University at Culver City. 

“I paid to have the ad posted and hoped it would be noticed by Elon Musk, or someone he knows,” he wrote over email, adding that he sees the Tesla CEO as “a man for the everyday people,” who “wants everyone to succeed in life.”

Kindred also said he was excited to put a picture of the billboard on Reddit, which he called “the common man’s Wall Street.”

The r/dogecoin subreddit is filled with stories like these, of meme-loving Musk devotees for whom Dogecoin is as much about community as anything else. “BUY DOGECOIN: TO THE MOON AND BEYOND,” reads one billboard. “#DOGECOIN: Don’t miss out on the next Bitcoin,” says another.

Predictions about prices going “to the moon” aren’t unique to Dogecoin, but they’ve become a common rallying cry on the subreddit; typically, they’re accompanied by rocket emojis.

Ward credits Reddit with jumpstarting his financial education. "The whole community means a lot to me as I continue to learn," he said.

Kindred put it more bluntly. “Do I regret investing in Dogecoin and paying for the electric billboard?” he mused. “No lol it’s been awesome.”

And while the ads were short-lived, Dogecoin may be here to stay: its market capitalization just breached $9 billion.