Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the ads of last night’s Super Bowl broadcast were dominated by the usual stuff – beer, cars, snacks, sports betting – but also, inevitably, crypto.
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Coinbase, FTX, Crypto.com and eToro all brought crypto-related sales pitches to the big game, as did TurboTax, with an ad nodding to the nightmare of handling digital assets during tax season. Meta had a commercial, too, albeit a somewhat depressing one.
This glut of fintech advertising is being called the “Crypto Bowl.” Larry David and Lebron James were there. Matt Damon was not there, despite past appearances in crypto commercials.
Crypto enthusiasts rejoiced, predicting imminent mainstream adoption (this time, surely!). Everyone else cringed (including viewers old enough to remember the 2005 Super Bowl, when the “winner” of the ad competition was a boiler-room subprime mortgage lender that shut down two years later as the housing bubble burst).
Here’s my brief (subjective) ranking of the crypto- and fintech-adjacent ads from this year’s Super Bowl broadcast, from worst to best.
6. “Old Friends. New Fun” – Meta
In this, a profoundly evil advertisement, an old animatronic dog from a retro diner relives his glory days through the power of Meta’s VR platform.
We see the dog face years of neglect, treated as a prop, forgotten on the side of the road and ultimately put out to pasture. Just before he’s crushed by a trash compactor, he’s saved by a kind stranger who repurposes him for one of Meta’s VR demonstrations. A headset is strapped to his face, and he’s suddenly transported to a digital replica of the diner he lost so many years ago. He warmly embraces the illusion.
It’s the “Make America Great Again” of Super Bowl ads, except somehow even more cynical – a suggestion that better days aren’t coming in the real world. Mark Zuckerberg’s proposed virtual world lets us cling to those ghosts of the past, the losses and regrets we couldn’t quite handle here on Earth.
At least the other tech-related ads this year were somewhat forward thinking. Increasingly, Meta feels like a company whose best days are behind it.
5. “Flying Your Way” – eToro
This ad, for the digital brokerage eToro, felt like a nod to the meme-stock/online trading movement that blossomed in the wake of last year’s GameStop short squeeze. It’s very much about investing together – everyone else is on board, so why shouldn’t you be, too?
“To the moon?” asks one trader, lifting a new recruit into a shifting mass of online investors.
There were even cameos of a Shiba Inu, the mascot of the cryptocurrency dogecoin, and another one from the Bored Ape Yacht Club.
You could say it’s sort of irresponsible to promise these kinds of moonward gains to an audience that’s potentially just now making its first crypto investments.
Unfortunately for dogecoin holders, the ad didn’t do much for the price.
4. “Matchmaker” – TurboTax
Boring, safe. Even Jason Sudeikis couldn’t save this one.
Its Super Bowl ad, starring basketball star Lebron James, repurposes that same tagline for a more lighthearted take on the concept. In it, a digitally de-aged Lebron talks with his present-day self in a messy bedroom circa 2003. It’s meant to evoke that feeling of taking a big leap, diving into something new with the potential for world-historic consequences.
On one of the bedroom walls, there’s a poster of Mars – the same shot from the end of the Matt Damon commercial.
It’s visually ambitious but conceptually simple. (It also flirts with the same recklessness as the eToro ad).
Fair play, Crypto.com.
This ad – just a QR code changing colors while bouncing around on a black screen, with a final splash screen reading “Coinbase,” was apparently so popular it crashed the exchange’s website.
It took Coinbase’s mobile platform to No. 2 on the App Store, and was hailed by Adweek as the year’s best Super Bowl ad.
“Coinbase spending $16,000,000 on a Super Bowl ad to direct people to [its] website and $0 to make sure that website doesn't crash 10 seconds after the ad starts is so very internet,” tweeted National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
It's certainly the most inventive of this year’s Super Bowl ads, but the trade-off was a lack of personality. At least it’s honest about what it’s selling – probably more than you can say for the Crypto.com ads.
1. “Don’t Miss Out” – FTX
The basic concept behind this ad is that Larry David, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” is a notorious curmudgeon – the poster child of curmudgeonliness, a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon. Here, he plays a naysayer throughout history, shunning each “next big thing” in its early days.
The invention of the wheel? “I don’t think so.” The beginnings of American democracy and the signing of the Declaration of Independence? “No king?”
The reaction to this ad, so far, has been overwhelmingly negative.
“Larry David in a crypto ad is a pretty succinct answer to ‘Is it ever possible to have enough money?’” wrote the comedian Patrtick Monahan. The Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece with the title, “Et Tu, Larry?” – a nod to the endless river of celebrities joining the crypto parade. A Washington Post editor suggested the ad was part of a high-concept bit, wherein the next season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” would deal with the backlash that comes with promoting crypto.
Whatever. Imagine, for a second, you didn’t know this ad was about crypto. The reality is that it’s pretty clever! I’d take it over that regressive, pessimistic Meta ad any day.
Bonus points to FTX for going to such lengths to conceal the actual product.