What Coinbase’s Super Bowl Ad Reveals About the Future of Tech, Crypto and Advertising

In mid February of this year, American cryptocurrency exchange platform, Coinbase, broke the internet with a $14m 60-second Super Bowl ad spot showing nothing more than a QR code bouncing around the screen. Some say it has changed the face of advertising for the 2020s and beyond. 

The floating QR code that allowed new users to claim $15 worth of Bitcoin and existing users to sign up for a $3 million Bitcoin giveaway. While there were reports of Coinbase crashing for some users, the QR code’s landing page got a whopping 20 million hits within just one minute of the ad airing.

24 hours after this ad appearance, Coinbase shot up from 186th place to second for downloads in the App Store, second only to Peacock among iPhone users. Among finance apps, Coinbase is No. 1. 

So, why is it such a genius move? Ad exchange firm Sharethrough, conducted research which found that 79% of TV viewers take out their phones during ad breaks, meaning consumers are already set up to engage with shoppable ads. This, coupled with 76% of viewers admitting to not actively watching ads, leads Sharethrough to believe that CTV QR codes can help advertisers retain audience attention during the commercial break.

For advertisers such as UK retail giant Boots – who experimented with shoppable QR codes for its Christmas 2021 campaign – the reception to Coinbase’s ad has the potential to majorly boost viewers’ interaction with future QR codes.

Whether this precise tactic will be as effective in years to come is uncertain. However, Todd Cohen, vice-president of national video at tech agency Undertone, notes its current individual strength; “when an advertiser now uses a QR code on TV, it’s no longer going to be the first time people see it – but they will still be new and fresh, stoking people’s curiosity. According to Cohen, the biggest advantage to using QR codes right now isn’t conversion. “The biggest thing you get is that it looks different in a sea of ads that look the same,” he says. Coinbase got 20m hits on its QR code page because it broke through the clutter of standard Super Bowl ads.

However, there has been some controversy surrounding the ad and its idea. Coinbase’s CEO Brian Armstrong has engaged in a spat with an ad agency after he claimed the ad was developed in-house. Martin Agency CEO Kristen Cavallo responded over Twitter that her agency pitched the idea.

This controversy serves to further highlight the awkward phase that cryptocurrencies – and the brands involved with them – are at in their exceptionally fast-paced growth spurt. Last year, Bitcoin’s market value surpassed $1 trillion – the first cryptocurrency to do so, just 12 years after its conception. The technology’s development cycle has been catalysed by a cocktail of cultural factors – including a pandemic-driven digital revolution and a growing dissatisfaction with global authorities and financial institutions – and as a result, there hasn’t been time for it to fully evolve before coming under public scrutiny.

Crypto is getting closer to transitioning into mainstream culture – exemplified by Visa buying a CryptoPunk NFT last year, in the least crypto or punk move ever. The rebels that were once fighting the establishment are now fast becoming the establishment, and they’re grappling with that tension between where they are going and where they’ve come from. Naturally, these growing pains present complex changes and conflicts but the future of crypto remains an interesting one, worth keeping an eye out for.

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