Coinbase Swears This All Isn't Like the Dotcom Bubble After Super Bowl Ad SNAFU

Coinbase's multi-million dollar QR code Super Bowl ad temporarily sent viewers to a down webpage, drawing ridicule.
GettyImagesCoinbase Swears This All Isn't Like the Dotcom Bubble After Super Bowl Ad SNAFU-1182943846 (1)

The most insufferable part of every Super Bowl Sunday has historically, without fail, been the ads. This year was no exception, with an unrelenting barrage of ads trying to manifest the metaverse, convince viewers they’re missing out on crypto, and lure new blood to online and physical casinos. Results were mixed.

Coinbase, in one ad named WAGMI (“we're all going to make it”), crafted an advertisement that bounced a QR code around the screen, changing colors each time it hit the edge like an old-school DVD menu. Scanning the QR code―which immediately forfeits your right to enter heaven―takes the user to this page, where Coinbase offers $15 in Bitcoin for signing up as well as a chance to enter a contest to win one of three prizes for $1 million worth of Bitcoin.

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The linked webpage went down almost immediately thanks to the increased traffic from the ad, and ridicule at the idea of paying millions of dollars to send millions of viewers to a down site poured in from around the web. 

“Coinbase spending $16,000,000 on a Superbowl ad to direct people to their website and $0 to make sure that website doesn't crash 10 seconds after the ad starts is so very internet,” tweeted Edward Snowden amid the outage.

To Coinbase, though, the ad was a success. In a blog post congratulating itself on the advertisement and interviewing Coinbase Chief Marketing Officer Kate Rouch about why the ad was so good, the company revealed it saw "20M+ hits on our landing page in one minute" which "led to us temporarily throttling our systems." Chief executive Brian Armstrong took to Twitter to gloat about the ad: ranked #1 by AdWeek and peaking at #2 in the Apple App Store, just ahead of apps for the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show and the NFL.

As it turns out, putting up nothing but a QR code in the middle of a widely-watched sports event and offering free money as well as a chance to win $3 million is a good way to build interest in your app. When Motherboard reached out to Coinbase about the ad, the company directed Motherboard to Rouch's blog post and reiterated its main points.

This campaign advertised by Coinbase is part of a larger initiative offering "over $100M of similar incentives" to bring in more fresh blood to the world of crypto―incredibly important in the wake of crypto’s recent sell-off and price crash. Coinbase already offers users the chance to earn a few dollars worth of various tokens if they take a course on it, meaning if they watch video tutorials and complete quizzes on them.

While taking a victory lap for the apparent success of its ad, Coinbase took the time to explain why this is definitely not at all like the dotcom bubble, which many critics have said is an apt comparison for Sunday's ads. 

“There have been a lot of comparisons to the dot.com era and speculation that many of the crypto companies advertising in this year’s Super Bowl will inevitably fail,” said Rouch in Coinbase's blog post. “We don’t think about it that way and judging from the early response we’ve seen, Super Bowl viewers don’t either.”

Rouch insisted that the sheer number of crypto ads in the Super Bowl was "yet another signal that crypto is bursting into the mainstream, and at the center of the cultural zeitgeist." 

That's one way to see it. Another is that crypto companies have accrued huge war chests over the past few years, and they’re now facing a critical moment as regulators begin to awaken from their stupor and critical backlash continues to pick up thanks to NFTs, a long series of fraudulent projects and tokens, absurd DAOs, and more. And so, they’re using their deep pockets to open the hearts, minds, and wallets of the public. That's got little to do with a zeitgeist and everything with pushing a product and an industry. Which, of course, is the point of all advertising, but there's no point in pretending otherwise.