Issue #373

That famous QR code from the Super Bowl

Like over 100 million people, I watched the Super Bowl a bit over a week ago. It was a good game, but a lot of people also watch it for the commercials.

Now, advertising at the Super Bowl is expensive. This year, it costs $6.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. $13 million for a minute. 🤯

Lot of companies also put millions into their production budget. They hire celebrities, pay fancy advertising firms and filming companies. Even just the celebrity appearances in these ads costs a pretty penny. They make anywhere from $500K to $2 million just to appear in those commercials. Sometimes higher. Arnold Schwarzenegger made $3 million for a Bud Light commercial in 2014. Brad Pitt made $4 million way back in 2005 to be in a Heineken commercial. Crazy.

But, these days, you can bet it probably costs $10 mil to $20 mil to put a Super Bowl commercial on the air. For airtime, talent, production, and the ad agency managing it all.

Sometimes, the result is downright… confusing. Sometimes funny… but confusing.

And you wonder what kind of logic went into it. 🤪

Like this year, Scarlett Johansen appeared in an ad for Amazon Alexa that ended with a dining table of guests barfing over spoiled oysters. I mean…. good for a giggle, but does that make you want to jump out and use Alexa?

Or the ad with Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd that ended with Seth marrying a ghoul straight out of the Walking Dead. And somehow… that was supposed to make us want to buy Lays potato chips.

Some of these ads are entertaining, but do they even work? I would say most of the time people don’t even remember what the ad was for. They’re just there for the jokes and to watch their favorite celebs do something stupid.

But, no doubt all these Harvard MBAs in their fancy, over-priced ad agencies “know” what works and they all do the same thing every year. And the CEOs and big-wigs in the companies that pay for it approve these massive budgets because they’re trusting the “experts”. And what they get out of it is 30 seconds of giving America a giggle (maybe).

Now, let’s talk about that Coinbase ad.

It was my favorite ad of the whole game.

And it had nothing to do with giggles, celebrities or big fancy theatrics. I mean, it couldn’t. Because it was literally 60 seconds of a QR code dancing around the TV screen like an old game of Pong from Atari. It was… nothing.

It stood out because… it didn’t fit in at all.

Brian Armstrong (CEO of Coinbase) said they bought the airtime not knowing exactly what they’d do with it. They had an ad agency that pitched them a bunch of standard stuff that would have just fit into the mix of the game. No doubt, some over-priced, ivory tower ad agency. And Armstrong didn’t care for any of them. And he said, “It never made sense to me why I should like a product because a famous person got paid to say they like it.”

Like typical young entrepreneurs, sounds like they procrastinated. 😜 And they were within a few weeks of the game and didn’t really have a commercial ready.

Some of their ideas included putting a QR code at the end. But, since they were running short on time, they said “screw it” and decided to make the whole ad into a QR code.


So simple, the “gurus” of advertising no doubt would scoff at the “stupidity” of it.

In fact, Armstrong says when they submitted it to NBC for approval, it got a lot of pushback. It took a bunch of meetings and legal stuff just to be able to run that ad on the airtime they paid for.

It only costs them $100K to make that ad. In a world where most companies shell out millions to make an ad for the game, Coinbase spent chump change in comparison.

So, did it work?

In spades. In fact, it was the best performing ad of the entire game. Word is that 20 million people scanned that QR code. In a game where at least 100 million people were watching, that is a 20% conversion rate on an ad. WOW! 🤯

The volume was so high that it crashed their server. Of course, anybody in crypto circles wouldn’t be surprised since Coinbase is no stranger to server downtime. 😉

Not only that, when people got to the site, they were greeted with a call to action that incentivized them to get started with Coinbase by giving them some free Bitcoin.

This is just absolutely genius.

The funny thing is… NONE of this is “out of the box” thinking when it comes to how we do things online. We know we need to get people to reach and convert. We want to give them a lead magnet to earn the conversion. We want to give them a concrete call to action. This is all marketing 101.

But, in the world of Super Bowl, that’s not how it is done. The “experts” know better. You’re “supposed” to do lots of theatrics to give America a laugh or a touch of the feels.

Coinbase broke the mold by making a stupidly simple ad that was a huge pattern interrupt because of how simplistic it was. They got the public to REACH. And they provided a solid call to action.

As Armstrong said:

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.

So, what can we take away from this?

  • Don’t blindly follow the “gurus”. A lot of the times, they’re just following the ass in front of them.
  • Your ad (or blog, or website) doesn’t have to be fancy to work.
  • The simple act of giving a call to action should never be forgotten.

Apparently, you can play scrappy in the world of advertising and grossly outperform all the “me too” commercials coming out of the million dollar agencies.

People were talking about it. People were picking up their phones and scanning a QR code. People were going to the website.

And when it comes to the goals of advertising, THAT makes a lot more sense than giving people a giggle over hurling out spoiled oysters or some cheesy line while marrying a ghoul. Which has nothing to do with a potato chip anyway. Just sayin’.

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