The crypto marketing blitz has arrived.
The coveted commercial breaks during Super Bowl LVI, where a 30-second spot cost as much as $7 million, featured eye-catching advertisements for crypto currency companies such as Coinbase and eToro. A-list celebrities joined the hoopla, too: Larry David appeared in an ad for FTX and LeBron James pitched for Crypto.com.
Coinbase’s minimalist 60-second spot — a colorful QR code bounced around the screen like a DVD logo — stirred up chatter on social media, and the platform appeared to crash after it aired. (The matchup between the victorious Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals was broadcast by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)
“Showing up in the most premium real estate in all of television allows them to rent the legitimacy of that space and say, ‘We’re here and we’re part of this American tradition,’” said Jason Damata, founder and CEO of Fabric Media, a strategy and marketing company. “You get brand equity and credibility that way — trust, recognition — and that drives up purchase intent.”
“I’m sure these crypto companies will see a huge rise in downloads and sign-ups so they can quantify a return on their investment,” Damata said.
The crypto firms were far from the only brands that shelled out millions for precious seconds of airtime during America’s biggest advertising spectacle. But the sheer volume of crypto-related marketing during the game was still notable, highlighting a push to create more mainstream awareness of a fast-growing but poorly understood industry.
In the last two years, the crypto world has been pumped full of investment capital. The prices of mainstream digital currencies, including bitcoin and ether, steadily rose, though they have stumbled in recent months. In turn, crypto has gone from a seemingly fringe digital hobby for “tech bros” into a more recognizable cultural force, luring the moneyed elite as well as average retail investors.
In the eyes of crypto company bigwigs and true believers, crypto’s prominence at one of the defining television events of the year was a golden opportunity to clear up confusion about what some view as the future of the global economy. In the crowded and competitive crypto marketplace, brands are in a veritable arms race for new users, market share and cultural oxygen.
“These brands are all trying to get in front of a mass audience, and this is a captive audience,” said Anindya Ghose, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who specializes in marketing and technology. “It’s not a question of whether crypto is here to stay, but which one of these companies will survive.”
In the eyes of skeptics, though, crypto remains a risky bet — and the brand that pulls ahead of the pack may as well be the new Pets.com, the doomed Clinton-era dot-com startup that conquered the Super Bowl 20 years ago. In the wake of Sunday's marketing blitz, some struck a dubious tone about the timing and intent of all these commercials.
“Crypto as an idea interests me,” tweeted Jeremy Littau, who teaches digital media at Lehigh University. “But having lived through the dotcom bubble bursting in the late '90s, it has all the same trappings of unsustainability. Bro culture, evangelism, groupthink.
“People in gold rushes get trampled and lose wealth. Right now the public is full of marks,” Littau added.
The doubts about the viability of crypto extend beyond Twitter.
In the last year, some have called on the U.S. government to start regulating the space. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank and regulatory office, warned last month that trading in digital payment tokens was “highly risky and not suitable for the general public.”
Crypto marketing became more high-profile in recent months with the debut of a glossy Crypto.com campaign featuring actor Matt Damon telling prospective investors that “fortune favors the bold.” The crypto world’s foray into professional sports did not start Sunday night, either.
Coinbase has an exclusive branding partnership with the NBA and the WNBA. Crypto.com spent hundreds of millions of dollars to put its name on the former Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, home of the Lakers. And FTX tapped retiring NFL great Tom Brady as a brand ambassador.