The Super Bowl is a three-ring circus: there’s the game, the halftime show, and—of course—the ads.
Many of the Super Bowl’s hundreds of millions of at-home viewers tune in specifically for the ads, or enjoy them enough to stay hushed and wide-eyed when a team calls timeout or a quarter ends. The Super Bowl is the, er, Super Bowl of the advertising world; brands pay creative agencies for highly-produced television spots, often with celebrity endorsements, clever writing, and memorable messages. Super Bowl ads can offer a glimpse at the present-day culture, but more reliably shine a spotlight on the present-day economy.
But they’re not cheap. $7 million was the asking price for a 30-second spot this year, and if you’re going to spend $7 million (plus much more on production, agency fees, and cross-promotion on other media platforms), you better send a message.
You might want people to get to know a new brand (remember all of those GoDaddy ads?), or maybe you’d like to convincingly debut a new tagline (Old Spice’s “The man your man can smell like” always sticks with me); or maybe you want to do something more cinematic (like Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial, directed by Ridley Scott.)
In 2022, a legion of cryptocurrency companies paid millions of dollars apiece to bombard every American sports-watcher with bunk investment advice. For Crypto.com and FTX respectively, Lebron James and Larry David encouraged their fans to take a risk and invest in crypto. The exchange Coinbase ran an ad that was just a QR code. The overarching motif of last year’s ads was FOMO, or fear of missing out.
Fast forward to 2023, there was only one crypto ad. A downturn—or “crypto winter”—in the market led to liquidity crises at many firms, including FTX. Since Larry David shilled for the crypto company during the 2022 Super Bowl, FTX collapsed, filed for bankruptcy, and its founder Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested and faces 12 separate civil and criminal fraud charges.
The sole crypto ad this year was for an NFT-based game called DigiDaigaku made by therather obscure crypto-gaming company Limit Break, which said it paid $6.5 million to place the ad. True to crypto’s form, even that ad was somewhat deceptive. Despite promising that scanning a QR code would let viewers claim an NFT of their own, all it did was link to the Twitter account of the company’s CEO.
Crypto just can’t stop being scammy, and—unfortunately for Super Bowl viewers—it’s not likely the industry will ever fully go away.
Since last year’s Super Bowl, the bottom has fallen out of the cryptocurrency industry. The price of bitcoin, crypto’s primordial coin, is down 50% since this time last year. The combined market capitalization of the crypto industry was north of $2 trillion in February 2022 and has lost $1 trillion since then, according to CoinGecko. Many companies including the exchange FTX, the lender Celsius, and hedge fund Three Arrows Capital all collapsed in 2022 and the US Securities and Exchange Commission seems intent on bringing much of the sector into compliance.
To put it another way, celebrities gave disastrous endorsements, encouraging their fans to put their money in unregulated financial products during a bull market. When the walls came crashing down, the celebs were nowhere to be found. (David along with Tom Brady, and Steph Curry face a class-action lawsuit over their endorsements of FTX.)
Sports-betting and traditional investment firms, such as DraftKings and E-Trade, paid for Super Bowl spots, showing that risk will always be part and parcel of the biggest night in American sports.
But while crypto ads mostly disappeared from the Super Bowl this year, there’s no guarantee they’ll be gone for good. Though it’s staring down the looming reality of mass regulation, the crypto market is by no means dead. When the economy recovers, when Americans have more money to waste, the surviving crypto companies will surely come back out to play.
Marketing is crypto’s entire game: How could its evangelists avoid marketing’s biggest stage?