Why Coinbase spent $14 million on a QR code Super Bowl ad
Coinbase spent an estimated $14 million on a 60-second bouncing QR code advertisement during the Super Bowl.
The ad was simple, yet it drove over 20 million people to Coinbase, crashed their app, and added nearly $1 billion to its market cap. That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. But, what specifically made the ad so successful?
“What is that?” “Where does it go?” “Whose ad is this?” were all questions I heard at my Super Bowl party when this ad came on, and that was precisely Coinbase’s goal.
A key feature of QR codes is that they direct you to a website. There is nothing explicit about the contents of the page at first glance, just a matrix barcode. To read the code, you must scan it with a smartphone. As a result, Coinbase’s ad quickly turned into a mystery box for all watching.
Humans have an innate desire to understand the world around them. As a result, if we don’t understand something, we spend countless hours searching for the truth. Coinbase’s QR code ad was genius because it tapped into this desire.
The Anti-Super Bowl Ad
The Super Bowl is a yearly commercial spectacle. To gain access to the 112 million people watching Super Bowl LVI, companies paid an average of $6.5 million for a 30-second slot. And, that number doesn’t cover the absurd costs of commercial production (including celebrity casts and respected directors) nor the countless months marketers dedicate to optimizing commercial performance.
So, why would Coinbase forgo the extravagance of traditional Super Bowl ads?
Because that’s exactly what we expected. Let me break that down.
Marketing is about capturing attention and converting it into purchases. But, how do you capture attention in a saturated market with star-studded casts, clever storylines, and beautiful cinematography? Do what they aren’t doing. And, what was no one doing with Super Bowl ads? Buying 60-seconds for a color-changing QR code to bounce around your TV screen.
Coinbase’s ad beautifully showed that stripping back to the basics can be more powerful than showing off.
The Coinbase QR code ad looked awfully similar to the quintessential DVD screensaver, and that’s no coincidence.
Coinbase is a cryptocurrency exchange. Cryptocurrency and the blockchain technology that underlies it are novel. Despite attracting significant media attention last year, millions of Americans still don’t invest, trade, or use cryptocurrencies. Coinbase is on a mission to change that.
It’s important to note that men between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely demographic to use cryptocurrency, according to a Pew Research report. The Super Bowl, on the other hand, attracts viewership from all age demographics, but especially from older generations that are more hesitant to adopt crypto. The DVD screensaver-esque ad was an appeal to these older viewers.
A mantra that I live by is, “Always meet your customer where they are at, never expect them to come to you.” Coinbase executed this mantra perfectly.
To review, Coinbase’s ad succeeded for three reasons:
- It capitalized on our innate drive toward the unknown.
- It stood out as the anti-Super Bowl ad.
- It dressed cryptocurrency up in familiar terms.