Super Bowl LVI may have been the first crypto scale.
It’s not that cryptocurrency-related ads completely overwhelmed the Super Bowl commercial breaks to the exclusion of all other ads. In fact, there were more ads for the more traditional Super Bowl booze, cars, and movie trailers than there were crypto commercials.
But cryptocurrency made a splash during the Super Bowl — one of the most-watched and most notable advertising events of the year — in a bid to win over mainstream customers (alongside a largely young and male minority embracing digital currencies to date.) But despite the hype, none of the cryptocurrency commercials accompanying the big game made any attempt to actually sell people anything other than spending more money on crypto.
LeBron James was there (with his aging younger self) for it promote crypto.com† Larry David compared missing crypto to giving up the wheel, the moon landing or the idea of portable music for FTX† eToro sold as part of the crypto community as a new wave of “social investment”† Budweiser’s Bud Light Next was promoted with NFT drops. And Coinbase’s bouncing QR code offered free Bitcoin to customers who signed up — which, while lacking in celebrity cameos, was still one of the most talked-about ads of the evening. All things considered, it was arguably crypto’s biggest-ever debut on the national stage, surpassing even the seemingly endless Matt Damon ads that haunted the NFL’s regular season.
Some of those ads were remarkably effective. Coinbase’s commercial in particular was a standout, with the company reporting a whopping 20 million hits to its website in one minute — enough traffic to temporarily crash the app and the most the company had ever had. (Which was the point of the puzzling ad in the first place.) The next morning saw Coinbase also emerge as the number two most downloaded iPhone app in the App Store.
But it’s just as telling which elements of the blockchain bean weren’t present at the Super Bowl. For the most part, the commercials focused almost exclusively on exchanges and the most basic aspect of ways to invest in cryptocurrency more easily. There were no ads covering NFT drops, no Bored Ape appearances during the halftime show, or even a mention of the NFL commemorative NFTs before the big game.
Nor were there commercials promoting the theoretically more practical use of crypto, as part of the “Web3” pitch that proposes blockchain technology powering huge chunks of the Internet’s future, much in the same way that user-generated content and social media use the Web. 2.0 era.
If this year’s Super Bowl was meant to be the blockchain’s big public debut, it was remarkably few pitches explaining what cryptocurrency technology will actually do or how it will improve things in users’ everyday lives. Instead, crypto’s big mainstream pitch has been a flashy, celebrity-strewn gateway to get new buyers into the blockchain hype wheel.
The Biggest Super Bowl Crypto Players Just Promoted The idea of cryptocurrency in general, telling viewers that now is the time to buy blockchain, offer free deposits of Bitcoin for signup, and push the story that not getting on board with crypto would mean missing out on the next big thing.
“If you want to make history, you have to make up your own mind,” LeBron tells his younger self before a “Fortune favors the brave” tagline pops up on the screen. “Do you want to be Larry David, stuck in the past and skipping mankind’s greatest inventions, or do you want to be King James?” the Super Bowl crypto exchanges. There is no proof of the value of cryptocurrency or the usefulness of owning Bitcoin or Ethereum – just an attempt to drum up FOMO.
Of course, none of the commercials here mentioned the silent part of how cryptocurrency works: more buy-in from new customers means prices for cryptocurrencies will continue to rise, pushing existing crypto believers (and the companies like Crypto.com or FTX that facilitate them sales) richer in a way that resembles a towering pyramid scheme, clad in the veneer of ‘the future of the Internet’.
It’s clear that the cryptocurrency companies that paid millions for Super Bowl ads think it’s worth getting more regular customers, given the estimated price tag of $7 million for a 30-second ad in this year’s game. .
2022 wasn’t the first time the Super Bowl has served as a hotbed for hyped, emerging technology. Twenty-two years ago, Super Bowl XXXIV saw the then-St. Louis Rams take on the Tennessee Titans, with as many as 17 dotcom startups buying commercials (compared to just two the year before). Two decades later — and after the dot-com bubble burst — virtually all of those companies have died out.
It is not yet clear where cryptocurrency falls in that hype cycle or if it is even a comparable case. It’s possible that Super Bowl LVI is just the calm before the storm, and next year’s big game will be awash with Web3 startups all pitching to the world about the latest and greatest blockchain-based innovations. Or maybe, like the dotcom boom before it, these crypto companies will be defunct around this time next year, and we’ll look back on 2022 as nothing more than a strange curiosity.
But one thing is clear from blockchain’s big Super Bowl debut: If the technology is to succeed in the mainstream, lofty rhetoric about how Bitcoin is the next smartphone, moon landing or wheel won’t be enough. At Super Bowl LVI, cryptocurrency promises an ouroboros of nothing: It’s the future because it’s the future, and if you miss it, you’re not part of it. However, if at some point blockchain technology has any chance of surviving with mainstream customers as anything other than silicone hose oil, it will actually have to deliver on some of those promises.