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Did Coinbase Really Win the Super Bowl?

QR Codes Hit the Big Time

It doesn’t happen during every Super Bowl, but once in a while a commercial airs that will be remembered long after the game. Crypto exchange platform Coinbase made the biggest impact among Adland commentators with an audacious 60” ad featuring a floating QR code in the style of the DVD meme. No branding or call-to-action, it simply held attention by enticing viewers towards a satisfying corner bounce. According to Coinbase, 20 million people were intrigued enough to get out their phones and activate the code which sent them to a promotion on the Coinbase site. That’s quite a conversion rate out of the 150 million viewers for the Super Bowl.

Difference Generates Mass Appeal

This isn’t the first time QR codes have made it onto TV, but it probably is the first time they have appeared solo in a $14m dollar media buy. Some have been quick to herald this as the dawn of a new era of addressable TV, but this wouldn’t necessarily be a sound conclusion. Above all, this was about standout; generating buzz and conversation. It grabbed attention because it was different, so it’s unlikely to have the same effect a second time.

The ad itself was polarising in the extreme. Adweek named the spot the best of this year’s Super Bowl ads, though the mainstream viewers who determine the USA Today Ad Meter rankings placed it dead last among the 2022 line-up out of 66 commercials.

This raises the question of who this ad was actually for. As the biggest crypto exchange brand, awareness is unlikely to have been the aim. This was more of an acquisition play. Coinbase used a quintessential top of funnel spot to pull off a lower-funnel stunt. Their primary audience is millennials; old enough to have disposable income and open to crypto. The visual cue of that QR code bouncing and changing colour like a ’00s DVD player is subtly but precisely targeted.

The ad can also be deemed a success if we consider earned amplification - we're all talking about it. Coinbase probably doesn't care whether the overall sentiment is positive or negative. It was far more important to be noticed by its core audience than to be liked by everyone.

A Touchdown for Attention

You may think it's the death of creative storytelling, but if you're judging whether it was effective and a creative way to address their business challenges through marketing then it does seem to have delivered. It doesn’t really provide a playbook for meeting a brand’s marketing challenges, beyond underlining the importance of getting noticed in the first place.

Using the most iconic ‘traditional media’ ad spot to create a ‘digital activation’ also demonstrates that there's no real division between digital and traditional anymore, just integration - which is a perfect fit for a marketplace of digital currency.