Skip to main content

Cryptocurrency’s big Super Bowl ads sold FOMO, not the future

Cryptocurrency’s big Super Bowl ads sold FOMO, not the future


Crypto was everywhere at the Super Bowl; what happens next?

Share this story

A stylized illustration of a Bitcoin in purple and black shadows.
Cryptocurrency startups were everywhere at Super Bowl LVI, with star-studded commercials featuring LeBron James and Larry David all pushing viewers to jump on the hype train.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Super Bowl LVI may have been the first crypto bowl.

It’s not that cryptocurrency-related ads completely overwhelmed the Super Bowl commercial breaks to the exclusion of all other advertisements. In fact, there were more ads for the Super Bowl’s more traditional fare of booze, cars, and movie trailers than there were crypto commercials.

But cryptocurrency made a splash at the Super Bowl — one of the most-watched and highest-profile advertising events on the year — in a bid to try and win over mainstream customers (in addition to a largely young and male minority that’s embraced digital currency so far.) But despite the hype, none of the cryptocurrency commercials at the big game made any attempt to actually sell people on anything other than spending more money on crypto.

LeBron James was there (with his de-aged younger self) to promote Larry David compared missing out on crypto to passing up the wheel, the moon landing, or the idea of portable music for FTX. eToro sold being part of the crypto community as a new wave of “social investing.” Budweiser’s Bud Light Next was promoted with NFT drops. And Coinbase’s bouncing QR code offered free Bitcoin for customers who signed up — which, while lacking celebrity cameos, was still among the most talked-about ads of the night. All told, it was perhaps the biggest debut yet for crypto 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 an astonishing 20 million hits on its website in one minute — enough traffic to temporarily crash the app and the most the company had ever had. (Something that may have been the point of the enigmatic advertisement in the first place.) The following morning also saw Coinbase appear as the number two most downloaded iPhone app on the App Store.

But it’s equally telling what elements of the blockchain boon 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 more easily invest in cryptocurrency. There were no ads shilling NFT drops, no Bored Ape appearances during the halftime show, or even a mention of the NFL’s commemorative NFTs for the big game.

Nor were there commercials promoting the theoretically more practical uses of crypto, as part of the “Web3” pitch that envisions blockchain technology underpinning huge swaths of the future of the internet, much in the same way that user-generated content and social media drove the Web 2.0 era.

If this year’s Super Bowl was meant to be the blockchain’s big public debut, it was remarkably short on pitches that explain what cryptocurrency technology will actually do or how it’ll improve things in users’ day-to-day lives. Instead, crypto’s big mainstream pitch was a flashy, celebrity-studded entryway to get new buyers into the blockchain hype wheel.

The biggest Super Bowl crypto players were just promoting the idea of cryptocurrency in general, telling viewers that now is the time to buy into blockchain, offering free deposits of Bitcoin for signing up, and pushing the narrative that not getting on board with crypto would mean missing out on the next big thing.

“If you want to make history, you gotta call your own shots,” LeBron tells his younger self before a “Fortune favors the brave” slogan pops on screen. “Do you want to be Larry David, stuck in the past and skipping out on humanity’s greatest inventions, or do you want to be King James?” the Super Bowl’s crypto exchanges ask. There’s no proof of the value of cryptocurrency or the utility in owning Bitcoin or Ethereum — just an attempt to drum up FOMO.

More FOMO than the future

Of course, none of the commercials here mentioned the quiet part of how cryptocurrency works: more buy-in from new customers means prices will continue to rise for cryptocurrencies, making existing crypto believers (and the companies like or FTX that facilitate those sales) more wealthy in a way that starts to look a little like a towering pyramid scheme dressed up in the veneer of “the future of the internet.”

Clearly, the cryptocurrency companies that shelled out millions for Super Bowl ads think it’s worth the attempt to get more mainstream customers, given the estimated $7 million price tag for a 30-second ad in this year’s game.

2022 wasn’t the first time the Super Bowl served as a hotbed for hyped, up-and-coming technology. Twenty-two years ago, Super Bowl XXXIV saw the then-St. Louis Rams face off against the Tennessee Titans, with a whopping 17 dot-com startups buying commercials (compared to just two the year before). Two decades later — and after the burst of the dot-com bubble — virtually all those companies are extinct.

It’s not clear yet where cryptocurrency falls in that hype cycle or if it even is a comparable case at all. It’s possible that Super Bowl LVI is just the calm before the storm, and next year’s big game will be swamped with Web3 startups all pitching the world on the latest and greatest blockchain-based innovations. Or maybe, like the dot-com boom before it, these crypto companies will be defunct this time next year, and we’ll look back at 2022 as nothing more than an odd curiosity.

An ouroboros of nothingness

But one thing is clear from blockchain’s big Super Bowl debut: if the technology is to succeed in the mainstream, high-minded 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 nothingness: it’s the future because it’s the future, and if you miss out, you won’t be part of it. At some point, though, if blockchain technology is going to have any chance at surviving with mainstream customers as anything but silicon snake oil, it’ll have to actually deliver on some of those promises.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.