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Sunday, May 19, 2024

These Crypto Super Bowl Ads Feel Like Pets.com All Over Again

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Cryptocurrency’s biggest boosters would do well to remember tech’s most infamous sock puppet. The year was 2000; it was what would later be known as the “Dot-Com Super Bowl,” an NFL face-off during which tech companies bought up some 20 percent of the advertising real estate during the Big Game. A few years later, many of the companies that bought those ads were defunct or swallowed up by other firms—including Pets.com, which had run a commercial featuring a singing puppet made from a sock.

This warning comes not because crypto companies are looking to turn stockings into mascots (at least, not that we know of), but because they are currently pumping millions of dollars into buying up ad space during Super Bowl LVI. Crypto.com, which has been flooding the market with its Matt Damon-starring commercials lately, has a big spot running; cryptocurrency exchange FTX plans to give away bitcoin during its Super Bowl spot. Coinbase is also reportedly running an ad. The companies are playing coy about who will appear in them. Regardless, the message seems to be that crypto is hot and everyone should get on board. But as multiple articles have pointed out in the past week, the Crypto Bowl has echoes of those ill-fated tech-company ads of the past.

Not that all of those companies failed. Autotrader is still around. So is WebMD. If anything, these massive ads might determine just how big crypto can get. All of the market’s early adopters are already in the game, so these ads could be what lures in the crypto-curious. “These companies are desperately scrambling to bring in new customers,” Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins told MarketWatch this week. Like celebs trying to get you hyped about NFTs, these commercials are aiming to lure in sports fans through the NFL.

Whether any of this works will entirely depend on how much people outside of the tech world really want cryptocurrencies. Autotrader survived because people need to buy and sell cars. Ordering dog food from Pets.com when there was a grocery store nearby proved less necessary—or at least at that time. It is perhaps a great irony that the Crypto Bowl will also feature an ad from Amazon, the company that turned buying random household stuff online into a multibillion-dollar business. (That ad, mind you, is a semi-creepy spot wherein Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost imagine Alexa can actually read their minds.)

One of the things people often forget about the Pets.com sock puppet is that he actually got a new gig. A couple of years after the site shut down, he was hired by 1-800-BarNone, a company that financed car loans for folks with bad credit. (The firm that revived the career of the Taco Bell chihuahua brokered the deal.) In his new job, the sock puppet’s motto became “everyone deserves a second chance.” We’ll see if crypto needs one. 

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