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Cincinnati Bengals Quarter-Back, Joe Burrow might have been the talk of the town going into last Sunday’s Super Bowl but how did one cryptocurrency company ensure he was old money by Monday morning by getting consumers and commentators-alike purring?

 This is Zonal Marketing – a series which explores how challenger brands are shaking up their industries with extraordinary marketing. Each week, I break down an example brand execution I love and, using the language of sports tactics, I help you apply the lessons I take from it to your own business.

And in this episode, I’ll be looking at Coinbase’s QR code-featuring TV ad which was broadcast during this year’s NFL Super Bowl.


Whether you’re a fan of American Football or not, you will probably be aware of its much-vaunted showpiece event – the Super Bowl. And to be aware of the Super Bowl is usually to have a keen awareness of the event’s popularity – especially in the United States, but also globally. In 2015, Nielsen estimated the season climax was seen by at least one-hundred and fourteen million viewers in the US alone.

And this sizeable captive audience, of course, attracts advertisers. But Super Bowl spots don’t come cheap with the average cost for a 30-second ad reported to be as much as seven million dollars this year.

So, when brands are spending that much, it goes without saying, they want to make the most of the opportunity. And making the most of it, usually means generating the most buzz. Indeed, broadcaster CBS airs a special after the event each year discussing the most notable ads from the night.

Content is usually fairly celebrity-heavy, often with a healthy dose of humour and occasionally with no small amount of controversy.

Probably the most famous example of a Super Bowl ‘winning’ ad is Apple’s ‘1984’ in which they launched their Macintosh computer and simultaneously planted their anti-establishment flag by using visual cues from George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name.

Elsewhere, brands such as Budweiser, Coca Cola, Doritos and Chrysler have become fixtures on the scene, regularly have their ads featured in ‘best of’ collections.

In summary, the ‘Big Game’ is a big deal and not just for the fans and players of the two teams involved!


This year, for the first time, a cryptocurrency company advertised during the Super Bowl. And not just one, either. BitPay, Coinbase,, eToro and FTX all had spots, leading some to draw parallels with the “Dot Com” Super Bowl of the year 2000. So, such an influx of advertisers from a relatively new industry is unusual enough as it is.

But Coinbase’s ad took unusual to extremes. Their 60-second ad consisted of a QR code bouncing around the screen. Picture your old Windows screen-saver that had an icon floating in mid-air and changing colour every few seconds and you’re not far off.

When scanned, the QR code redirected users to a web page advertising a giveaway for new customers.

20 million hits within a minute promptly – and somewhat predictably – crashed Coinbase’s site and, with even more predictability, Twitter and the talking heads on TV lit up with conversation about the ad.

So the big question is, why was it so extraordinary? And what made it so successful? After all, on the surface of it, the ad is weird, and certainly far less appealing than so many of the cinematic, charismatic, culturematic spots that surrounded it. And, well, partly it’s precisely BECAUSE of this weirdness.

At this point I’m going to “switch codes” so-to-speak and I’ll be drawing on my usual analogy of a European football team formations. For the avoidance of confusion, I will refer to that variant of football as ‘soccer’ for the remainder of this video.

In my marketing mix model, Zonal Marketing, I talk about how you TARGET your message. In soccer, the wider a player plays on the pitch, the further away from goal they are. As a consequence, wide players – while often very influential in the ASSISTING of goalscoring opportunities – don’t tend to SCORE many goals themselves; their starting position right out on the wing simply means they have to work that extra bit harder to get into to the box.

Well, a similar thing can be observed in marketing where “width” can be equated to the TARGETING of a message. How WIDELY do you want your message to be seen? TV, traditionally, has very wide reach (a benefit if your goal is raising awareness) but minimal targeting. This can be a downside because the most compelling marketing is PERSONALISED, and the power of a message to lead directly to sales or conversions only decreases the wider you go.

So, while an ad will be seen by a huge audience on TV, you typically can’t control WHO is seeing it. You can’t pinpoint your target audience. As a consequence, TV ads (especially outside of the Super Bowl) have traditionally tended towards content that appeals to almost everyone; think Coca Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ which gives pretty much everyone warm fuzzy feelings around early December… OK, more like mid-November… and – cleverly – avoids any specific mention of any denominational celebration. It is an ad that is for quite literally almost everyone.

In my Zonal Marketing grid, therefore, I would classify TV as a BROADCAST channel, with targeting in the MASS MARKET zone. I would typically, then use BRAND- or COMMUNITY-focussed content on TV, as this style of message is good at PULLING an audience in; it’s more tribal than transactional. It CREATES space for the potential customer to feel invited into the brand, rather than CONSTRICTING space by PUSHING them towards a purchase decision.

Coinbase chose one of the widest possible advertising spots – the Super Bowl – to help build awareness of their BRAND. So this makes sense. But Coinbase didn’t serve up the normal brand-focussed ad. An interesting comparison here can be made with their competitor, FTX – who ran a far more traditional brand-focussed TV advert. FTX’s ad featured comedian Larry David as he time-travelled through history proclaiming how pioneering inventions like the wheel, the fork and the toilet would “never work”. FTX built their tribe through injecting humour and celebrity into their message. FTX left you with a clear and concise brand message, encouraging you not to be like Larry the luddite. Coinbase, on the other hand, showed you a QR code. This ‘NICHED’ their audience considerably, decreasing the mass appeal and therefore reach but increasing the power of the message for those who got it.

What Coinbase did was speak the language of their target customer through saying (without any copy of course!), “if you get this, you get us”. So what we’re seeing here is a brand identity in action. Coinbase is channelling Carl Jung’s ‘Adventurer’ archetype; a personality that values autonomy, risk-taking and exploration of the unknown. And what kind of customer also values these things? The sort of customer that scans a QR code with no context on where it’s going to lead them. Also, the sort of customer that is probably interested in the relatively uncharted waters of a decentralised, self-regulating, digital-only currency. Without saying anything at all, the Coinbase ad said to viewers, “if you’re desperate to know what this is all about, if you’re willing to scan the code and see where it takes you, if you are digitally savvy enough to be able to get your phone out and know how to do this in the first place… you’re part of our tribe. We get you.” And telling – no, PROVING TO – a customer that “you get them” is one of the most powerful brand-building messages a company can put out. It builds affinity and advocacy and, of course, it sparks conversation.

All of this would be enough to make this a stand-out campaign anyway. But there’s more. I initially spoke about TV as being a BROADCAST channel because traditionally it always has been. A one-way communication channel in which it is possible for companies to talk TO their audience but never to gain feedback. By adding a QR code, Coinbase turned TV into an AUDIENCE channel, in which they were able to receive two-way information from viewers. “Did you like our ad?” Emphatically, 20 million people answered “yes”…. within 60 seconds.

And, through linking through to the website, Coinbase PROACTIVELY drove 20 million clicks (no SEO required), taking the customer from an AUDIENCE channel to a CONVERSION channel in next to no time at all. That’s like a raking 60-yard Trent Alexander-Arnold long ball all the way through the centre of the pitch for Diogo Jota to run on to.

The final piece of the puzzle? On the aforementioned landing page, Coinbase offered 15 dollars-worth of cryptocurrency to anyone who signed up to their site… key point… WITHIN 24 HOURS. What does that mean? Scarcity. What does scarcity drive? Action. Immediately. The Coinbase campaign was master-engineered to create a super-effective conversion opportunity for the brand. So, now, not only is Jota running on to Trent’s long ball but he’s in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper with a great chance of scoring a goal.

So, what were the results? Well, we’ve already talked about the 20 million clicks in the space of a minute. But Coinbase also went from being ranked 186th in Apple’s app store to number 2. And the company’s Chief Product Officer reported campaign engagement SIX times higher than previous benchmarks.

On top of this, they SAVED a bunch of money on advertising creative. Unsurprisingly, the Vaynermedia’s and Wieden+Kennedy’s of the world don’t tell us what they charge their clients for making filmic Super Bowl ads on their behalf but, I think it’s safe to say it eclipses Coinbase’s 3-million-dollar bitcoin giveaway.

So, all in all, an extremely well-thought through, perfectly executed, highly effective campaign.


Hopefully what you’re taking from this example is not that you need to be a crypto company… not that you need to use a QR code… not that you need to run a Super Bowl ad… and not that you need to have a spare 3 million in your back pocket ready to give away in order to run an extraordinary ad campaign like this.

The learnings from Coinbase’s campaign can all be aplied to smaller, challenger-brand businesses as long as you have the brains and the blood in your veins to apply the lessons properly. My key takeaways are as follows.

Number 1: Understanding where your chosen channels sit within your marketing mix and your customer’s purchase journey is important. It helps you plan the activation, understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and therefore, measure meaningful results. KNOWING the rules allows you to BREAK them in a considered and compelling waym and THAT is what makes you stand out from the crowd. For more on this, check out episode three on How to Choose Your Marketing Channels.

Takeaway number 2: Size of budget does not equate to quality of creative. Knowing your customer, knowing your brand, and communicating your message simply and strategically will always trump star-power. For more on brand identity and personality archetypes, check out Episode 15 on How Not to be Boring.

Takeaway Number 3: as a challenger brand, a really effective strategy for making an impact is to PULL your audience in before selling to them. Your bigger, better-equipped competitors will try to dominate your customers’ attention like a Pep Guardiola team hogging possession of a football. They will do this by paying to have their sales messages PUSHED into your target customer’s consciousness everywhere they go. And if they do that, a Counter Attacking strategy is often smart. Attract customers with great AUDIENCE activation before selling with simple CONVERSION activation. For more on how to do this, check out episode 10 on How to Disrupt the Market.


For more on the ideas and approaches mentioned in this episode, I recommend checking out my core Zonal Marketing playlist on which I take you through the process of building a considered, consistent and compelling marketing mix from scratch, taking my lead from the world of sports tactics.

If you’d prefer more of the human touch, you can ask me to talk through these ideas with you and your team one-to-one. I’m available for speaking gigs, training sessions and client work and to find out how to talk to me about any of that, please use the Contact form below.

Check back here every week for a new episode, each one explaining another part of my tactical approach to marketing. If you’re enjoying this series, please do like, comment, share, subscribe and/or review – depending on the platform you’re on. It all really helps the channels and, if it helps the channels, I’m hoping it’ll help more people just like you.

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