Coinbase CEO called out by ad agency CEO over Super Bowl ad

This Coinbase CEO, if you can believe it.

This Coinbase CEO, if you can believe it.
Photo: Anthony Harvey/TechCrunch (Getty Images)

This year’s Super Bowl champions weren’t the L.A. Rams, the Cincinnati Bengals, or even nostalgic millennial hip-hop fans… they were, sigh, Crypto Bros. It felt like very other commercial during the NFT matchup involved an awkward celebrity trying to sell us on companies providing what basically amount to a cyberpunk Ponzi schemes. And you know what? They all sucked.

Well, one didn’t suck quite as hard as the others, mainly because it’s whole angle was simplicity. At one point during the evening, the massively popular crypto banking provider, Coinbase, offered us 60 seconds of just a color-changing QR code bouncing around audiences’ television screens that, when uploaded on a smartphone, directed people to a promotional offer to start using the company’s services. It was a nice change of pace—not because of the product itself, of course, but because it provided everyone with a temporary reprieve from sensory overload.

A screenshot of the Coinbase ad (its promo contest has since expired)

The ad proved to be a bit too successful, however, given that Coinbase’s website crashed from too much traffic almost immediately after airing its Super Bowl spot. While one could (and should) easily argue that it doesn’t bode well for a tech company’s credibility when it can’t anticipate the ensuing surge in site visitors following a damn Super Bowl commercial, crypto zealots called the snafu a major win in their ongoing quest to… decentralize scams, or something.

No one was more proud of this moment than Coinbase CEO, Brian Armstrong, who took to Twitter on Sunday night with a lengthy thread extolling the genius of his company’s commercial.

According to Armstrong’s “quick back story,” Coinbase originally bought the ($14 million) ad time not knowing what they’d do with it. “Initially an outside agency pitched us a bunch of standard super bowl [sic] ad ideas – I didn’t like any of them),” he confessed to everyone before his team supposedly came up with the “original” idea of putting a QR code in it. By his account, his genius crypto coworkers decided to make the entire ad (gasp!) one long QR code spot, and voilá…

Except that’s apparently false, as was almost immediately pointed out by Kristen Cavallo, CEO of The Martin Agency. “It was actually inspired by presentations our agency showed your team on 8/18 (pages 19-24) and 10/7 (pages 11-18) with ad concepts for the Super Bowl with floating QR codes on a blank screen,” Cavallo responded to one of Armstrong’s tweets claiming inspiration from a Reddit commercial in 2021.

At one point in his original thread, Armstrong muses, “I guess if there is a lesson here it is that constraints breed creativity, and that as founders you can empower your team to break the rules on marketing because you’re not trying to impress your peers at AdWeek or wherever. No ad agency would have done this ad.”

“Except an ad agency did do that ad,” Cavallo answered.

Hours after Cavallo pointed all this out, Armstrong attempted to amend his ignorance of how his own company actually operates. “Although we didn’t work with a traditional ad agency I’d be remiss not to mention the creative firm we worked with who actually created the ad, commissioned the song, got the clearances etc etc. Honestly, felt like we were all one team so I didn’t fully realize it, thank you!”

…And that was it. His “mention” of the creative firm doesn’t, y’know, name the firm. But that doesn’t matter, apparently, since they’re all one big happy crypto family in the eyes of Brian Armstrong. Congrats, team!

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