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Star athletes and supermodels are promoting crypto companies. Stadiums are taking the companies’ names. The government is thinking about regulating them.
But perhaps the surest sign yet that the cryptocurrency industry has reached the mainstream? It will be ubiquitous during this weekend’s Super Bowl commercials.
At least three online services for buying and selling digital currencies — EToro, Crypto.com and FTX — are scheduled to run ads during the game on Sunday. BitBuy, a Canadian crypto exchange, will run one during the Canadian broadcast of the game.
Even non-crypto companies will refer to the industry’s rise: A nonfungible token, or NFT, the blockchain-based collectible, shows up in the commercial for the zero-carb beer Bud Light Next. An Expedia ad starring the actor Ewan McGregor, which urges viewers to book more trips on the travel platform instead of collecting more unnecessary “stuff,” silently lumps virtual currency into the category of “stuff.” And TurboTax, the software company that recently started a direct deposit program with Coinbase to allow users to convert their tax refunds into cryptocurrency, showcases a small-town crypto investor in its ad.
In Reddit forums and on Madison Avenue, the game has even been rechristened the “Crypto Bowl.”
“These companies are conveying that we’re not this weird little nerdy kid in the corner who’s doing sort-of shifty stuff,” said Beth Egan, an associate professor of advertising at Syracuse University. “We are a real company, a real advertiser, we’re here to stay, we’re mainstream.”
The Super Bowl remains the single most important event of the advertising calendar, a cultural event that draws a huge audience even as live television loses ground to streaming platforms and mobile entertainment.
About 100 million people are expected to watch this year’s matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals. NBCUniversal, which is broadcasting the game and has sold out of game-time ad spots, is charging up to $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime. .
Nearly half of the commercials will be from companies like the crypto exchanges that are making their first Super Bowl appearance. One, from Hologic, a medical technology company focused on women’s health, will show the singer and halftime performer Mary J. Blige getting a checkup. Wallbox’s debut ad features a lightning strike survivor overcoming his fear of electricity to use the company’s electric vehicle charging technology.
Super Bowl mainstays like Budweiser, Amazon and Avocados from Mexico will also make an appearance. But some other frequent advertisers in the game are contending with supply chain struggles and pandemic-weakened budgets. Several, including Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Tide, are opting instead to lie low, or to run digital campaigns or to advertise only in regional broadcasts.
The crypto industry, which struggles with a reputation for being volatile, bad for the environment and overrun by wealthy tech guys, has tried to demystify itself for the general public in part by pouring money into marketing. Several ad experts said they had déjà vu, noting similarities to the gush of money dedicated to marketing the dot-com boom more than 20 years ago.
The number of crypto companies advertising more than tripled last year, and their spending more than quintupled, according to a sample of 200 companies reviewed by the research firm MediaRadar. The National Football League star Tom Brady signed on as a brand ambassador for FTX. Crypto.com paid $700 million to rename the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles. Celebrities including Spike Lee, Matt Damon and Neil Patrick Harris appeared in crypto commercials.
Dive Deeper Into the Super Bowl
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, loosened a ban on crypto ads that had been in place at the social network since 2018, explaining in December that “the cryptocurrency landscape has continued to mature and stabilize in recent years.” Google also relaxed its crypto advertising guidelines over the summer.
Not everyone is sold. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, a financial regulator, said this year that crypto companies should stop advertising to retail investors because trading digital currencies is “highly risky and not suitable for the general public.” The Athletic, the sports news site recently bought by The New York Times, reported last year that the N.F.L. does not allow teams to sell sponsorships to cryptocurrency trading firms.
“The Super Bowl is low-effort — it’s fun, you’re in a relaxed mode, and then a crypto commercial comes on and it seems friendly and accessible and people might be more likely to give it a shot,” said Demetra Andrews, a clinical associate professor of marketing at Indiana University. “But it does present real risk, certainly more than trying out a new flavor of beverage or Uber Eats.”
Other technology ads will feature heavily in the Super Bowl, including sports betting ads (Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings) and ads about the metaverse (Meta and Salesforce). Google has an ad centered on its Pixel 6 camera and diversity in photography. A commercial from the financial app and Super Bowl first-timer Greenlight shows the “Modern Family” actor Ty Burrell impulse-buying a Fabergé egg, a jetpack and a Pegasus.
Many ads debuted on social media well in advance of the game, or were teased with online trailers, as companies tried to catch cord-cutting viewers who are moving from television to smaller screens.
“It’s rare that somebody is watching the game and doesn’t have another device in their hands at the same time,” said Stacey Stewart, the U.S. chief marketplace officer at the media agency UM Worldwide. “If you’re going to spend that kind of money producing and airing a Super Bowl ad, you want to make sure you’re maximizing that exposure.”
State Farm is skipping the broadcast after making its Super Bowl debut in 2021, focusing instead on a social media campaign that invites TikTok users to compete for a role in a future State Farm commercial by posting videos duetting with the company’s spokesman, Jake. Alyson Griffin, the company’s head of marketing, said an uproar last fall over anti-vaccination comments by Aaron Rodgers, who appeared prominently in last year’s commercial, “played no role at all on the decision to Super Bowl or not to Super Bowl.”
“While we were looking for broad reach last year, this year we were contemplating millennials and Gen Z in particular, meeting our customers where they are,” she said. “We want to test and learn and see how we do in those spaces, and those results will be what we consider as we make decisions about big media investments in the future.”
But television “is still an important part of our media mix for sure,” she said, adding that State Farm could return for future Super Bowls.
Some companies, like Hologic, Salesforce and Toyota, are running campaigns across both Sunday’s game and the Beijing Olympics, which opened last week and are also being broadcast by NBCUniversal.
Automakers, film studios and travel providers are returning to the Super Bowl after the pandemic stifled demand for leisure outings last year.
The online travel agency Booking.com recruited the actor Idris Elba to star in the company’s first Super Bowl ad.
Arjan Dijk, the company’s chief marketing officer, said that despite the continuing pandemic, he wanted the ad to avoid the somber tone that marked several commercials last year.
“The zeitgeist of today is really lighthearted, feeling good — people want to look forward, to have a chuckle,” he said. “So I don’t think it was time to be very serious or emotional.”
Mr. Dijk said the ad was a bet that Americans would channel that optimism into spring break trips and summer vacations.
“Covid really made the travel reality very different,” he said. “We really think that demand will pick up, but I’ll be honest, it was kind of an educated — gamble is probably a big word — but I had to convince my boss that the timing was right.”
Booking.com bought its ad space in September, five months before Sunday’s game. Also in September, Fox Sports opened ad sales for the next Super Bowl — 18 months early.