After a year of mania about Bored Apes, buying the Constitution, Elon Musk and dog-themed cryptocurrency coins, and all the rest, legions of crypto brands would storm the gates of Super Bowl advertising to announce themselves on mainstream brand marketing’s biggest stage.
Of course, it didn’t quite turn out that way.
The game did feature major new commercials for Coinbase, FTX, eToro, and Crypto.com, an NFT integration by Bud Light, and Binance danced around the sidelines creating a social campaign that rolled out before and during the game. Not quite a tidal wave of crypto, but enough to illustrate the category’s rapid rise in culture, from the fringes of fintech to the Super Bowl stage.
As marketing goes, a year ago most everyday people couldn’t name a crypto brand. Over the past 12 months there has been an explosion in marketing, particular in sports. FTX’s arena deal with the Miami Heat in early 2021 triggered a flood of other crypto brands jumping into the space. Coinbase became the official crypto partner of the NBA and WNBA. Binance sponsored the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament. Crypto.com, of course, replaced Staples as the name on the arena of the Los Angeles Lakers, and then signed on both LeBron James and star-studded soccer club Paris Saint-Germain as partners.
For those who bought into the Crypto Bowl hype, consider it buying in early. Back in 1999, only two dotcom brands had Super Bowl commercials. The next year, there were 17. Today, we don’t even blink when Amazon is a perennially popular Super Bowl advertiser.
One of the challenges for crypto brand marketers is effectively communicating the complexity, potential, and details of an incredibly complicated business. Is it cryptocurrency? Is it blockchain tech? Is it an NFT? Isn’t it all just a scam? Too deep a dive will have people’s eyes glazing over, while too little information will only feed into their confusion and mistrust. So how did this year’s crypto advertisers meet all these challenges?
I didn’t write a white paper outlining how I’d evaluate these ads, nor did I have to put anything on the blockchain. I focused on three questions: Does the ad tell a crypto newbie anything about what it does and why they should care? Does the ad make that person predisposed to like the company? Does the ad inspire them to look into it further?
6. Bud Light “Zero In The Way of Possibility”
In hindsight, the answer was right in the title of the ad. Forget crypto—even for a beer ad this commercial is a mess. Random beautiful young people in a variety of funky situations? This could be for jeans, headphones, condoms, Pepsi, Coke, Taco Bell, who knows. One thing the brand did do is combine all these visual clichés with the latest marketing gimmick: brand NFTs! Those pixelated glasses in the art gallery are an actual NFT from The Nouns Foundation, which will only make sense to people already steeped in NFT culture. Like, really steeped. This is a deep cut even by crypto art nerd standards. The ad also coincides with the January launch of the “Bud Light N3XT Collection,” which involved the brand selling 12,722 NFTs starting February 6 for $399 each. If you’re wondering what this spot does to explain or advance the idea or understanding of crypto or NFTs, well, you’re right: It does nothing. Nada. This is just a vapid beer ad that popped in an Easter egg to woo the NFT in-crowd. Good news, I guess, for Bud Light being the official beer of the next NFT.NYC event, but no one else.
Impact on the celebrity’s reputation: Who’s the celeb? Nouns? Their value may go up, even as no one really knows why.
Final verdict (in crypto slang): Not gonna make it.
5. Coinbase “Coinbase Drops”
This was crypto’s version of last year’s Reddit spot. Except without the years-deep brand reputation and relationships with fans and culture. Which ultimately turns this into less of a PrimeTime Super Bowl debut, and more of a QR code curiosity set to a 1980s instrumental synth track. If you clicked through, the brand aims to entice new users with freebies, part of the first of more than $100 million in incentives for the crypto community that the brand says it expects to giveaway this year.
Did the ad do any of the things we were looking for? Not even close. It could have been an ad for Atari Pong if I’d had enough beers by that early in the evening. But it was weird and attention getting, so that’s why it edges out Bud Light.
Impact on the celebrity’s reputation: Gary Numan probably got some surprise Spotify streams.
Final verdict (in crypto slang): Not your keys, not your coins.
4. Binance “Trust Yourself”
— Binance (@binance) February 2, 2022
Jimmy Butler and J. Balvin don’t want you to listen to celebrities when it comes to crypto. The NBA star and hit artist are featured in the company’s social campaign around the Super Bowl, imploring anyone who sees Larry David or LeBron James (see below) not to be swayed by a stylish Big Game spot. Instead, they echo Spike Lee’s Coin Cloud ad from last summer (maybe not as widely panned as the Matt Damon Crypto.com ad, but it certainly got people’s attention as a bit of agitprop that decried the flaws of the traditional financial system without acknowledging any of the issues of racism that have been exposed in the crypto community).
That message is the crypto mantra: Do your own research. The empowerment angle here is theoretically compelling, if you’re willing to ignore its political underpinnings and unfortunate association with vaccine skeptics. The ad does give the viewer credit, even if they don’t know anything about crypto, that they aren’t some celeb-worship sheeple. Of course, it does this using celebrities itself, during a game jam-packed to the rafters with celebrity spokespeople, so put this one in the “you’re too smart to be marketed to” marketing bucket, which in 2022, is not as effective a message as it was in, say, 1971, or even 1991.
Impact on the celebrity’s reputation: Both Butler and Balvin will likely survive this without much blowback.
Final verdict (in crypto slang): Shill.
3. eToro “We’re Coming”
????Drop your guesses below.???? pic.twitter.com/BSyYXrpYuu
— eToro US (@eToroUS) February 14, 2022
While so many of the crypto ads either a) assume you know what it’s all about and what the brand does, b) want to bypass all that with shiny celebrity, or c) simply inject FOMO straight into your veins, here eToro actually does the best job at sunnily pitching the upside of what crypto promises to be. Does it really explain much? No. But neither does it oversell with vague references to how it, whatever it is, will change history and you better get involved right now or else. A welcome calm.
Impact on the celebrity’s reputation: No celeb, probably for the best.
Final verdict (in crypto slang): To the moon.
2. Crypto.com “LeBron”
Produced by LeBron James’s SpringHill Company, and directed by Calmatic (who is also directing the House Party reboot for SpringHill), Crypto.com takes 2022 LeBron back to meet his high-school self to offer some advice, all to the tune of halftime show co-star Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode.”
The de-aging here is fun, and much like FTX’s message (see below), the notion here is one of embracing the future. While the ad doesn’t answer any basic questions around what Crypto.com actually is and what it actually does or what you do when you go to Crypto.com, a stylish LeBron spot may be more than enough to get a fan to check it out further. Matt Damon may be an award-winning actor, but he has nowhere near the brand halo as LeBron, and Crypto.com smartly moved away from comparing itself to all the great inventions, battles, and accomplishments of history, and instead focused on tapping into your curiosity.
Impact on the celebrity’s reputation: LeBron has haters for speaking up on BLM. LeBron has haters for not speaking up on China. And LeBron will collect a few more for hitching his brand to crypto.
Final verdict (in crypto slang): When Lambo?
1. FTX “Don’t Miss Out”
After a whirlwind year, in which FTX aggressively used sponsorships to go from almost complete obscurity to at least a household name in the homes of sports fans, the brand pivots a bit here with a Super Bowl ad not starring Tom Brady or Gisele Bündchen, Lewis Hamilton, or Steph Curry (all FTX brand spokespeople), but . . . Larry David. The comedian unenthusiastically shrugs off life-changing inventions throughout history, from the wheel to American democracy to electricity to the Walkman. And of course, crypto.
Is it funny? Yeah. But the blatant trolling of skepticism may be premature. This is the same message delivered by Crypto.com, that fortune favors the brave, and frankly, you’d be an idiot not to embrace this right now. Whether this is true or not is not for me to say, but insulting your desired future customer base as being too cautious when your business is aiming to be the future of banking and financial infrastructure seems short-sighted.
Impact on the celebrity’s reputation: Clearly familiar with the dangers of advertising that aims at culture, but ultimately Larry David isn’t exactly an influencer, and this is a clear humor-for-hire move over an elaborate Brand Ambassadorship.
Final verdict (in crypto slang): Probably nothing.