Crypto, Cars, and Culture: How PR Gives Life to Super Bowl Ads

5 min read

Guys watching TV with Coinbase ad

The Super Bowl is known the world over as an advertising platform, as much as it is a game of American football. With more than 100 million viewers, a diverse audience, and hours of valuable airtime, the entire spectacle accounts for a massive chunk of a company’s ad budget—even for Fortune 500 companies.

When a 30-second spot costs a whopping $6.5 million dollars, it’s incumbent upon the advertiser to keep the audience talking long after one commercial ends and the next begins. One way to keep the conversation going is to bring the creative work into the real world through a carefully crafted PR stunt. Think human Doritos in the stadium or million-dollar giveaways. Hey, it’s cheaper to give away $1 million dollars and leverage earned media than it is to compete for a second or third TV spot in the primetime window.

Our PR team is focused on the stories behind the ads and the stories that broke through without paid advertisements at all. What messages stood out amongst the noise and drove audience interest before, during, and after the big game?

The NFL and Racial Justice

Ever since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem at a 2016 pre-season game, the NFL has had a shaky relationship with the Black Lives Matter movement. The gesture, meant to protest the murder of unarmed Black people at the hands of law enforcement, sparked a national controversy. The league blackballed Kaepernick and punished players who followed in his footsteps. A paucity of Black coaches has even drawn the ire of President Joe Biden. Nearly 70% of the league’s players are Black, but institutional failures and poor leadership have prevented many voices from being heard.

Given the incredible reach of the Super Bowl, any effort the NFL makes toward diversity, equity, and inclusion must be reflected on its biggest day. With a halftime performance featuring five marquee Black hip-hop and R&B performers, the league hoped to shine a light on Black musical excellence in a way it never had before. 

However, in a case of “one step forward and two steps back”, the league denied rapper Eminem’s request to kneel in solidarity with Kaepernick’s original gesture. 

He did it anyway.

There has been much ink spilled between the NFL and the Black Lives Matter movement, and a kneeling performer at the climax of the Super Bowl halftime show might finally force the league to honor its commitment to the cause.

Coinbase and The World of Cryptocurrency

One of the most innovative advertisements in the last decade of Super Bowl spots utilized a simple QR code as a gateway to the product website.

Cryptocurrency giant Coinbase, in a clever nod to the endlessly bouncing DVD logo you fell asleep to in the 2000s, showcased a moving QR code that, when scanned, promised new users $15 worth of bitcoin. It was so successful as a tactic that it crashed the app.

The ad wasn’t the funniest or most awe-inducing from a visual standpoint, but in a turn of PR brilliance, it offered something concrete to the viewer and provided an easy way for new users to engage with the product.

“This was the evening’s most effective commercial — in terms of both cost-efficiency and measurable impact,” wrote Lucas Piazza, head of marketing at QuickFrame by MNTN. “We all know the outrageous price tag of a Super Bowl commercial, so hats off to Coinbase for saving some money by making the video production incredibly low-cost.”

On a night when cryptocurrencies debuted to the masses, Coinbase was the pick of the litter.

Super Bowl Sunday or Super Bowl Week?

Finally, the biggest meta story (no, not that Meta) about Super Bowl Sunday wasn’t about any single ad or PR stunt. It was the dissolution of Super Bowl Sunday as the singular day of marketing investment in the Super Bowl season.

We have truly reached a point wherein Super Bowl Week features early previews of nearly every commercial and coverage of brands’ celebrity endorsers can drive significant traffic long after the game is over. According to, the third most viewed ad on Super Bowl Sunday was Hyundai USA’s “History of Evolution” commercial, which didn’t even run during the game. 

As the cost of a Super Bowl commercial in the prime slot continues to rise, it’s increasingly important for brands to find ways to get a better bang for their buck. By leveraging social media and earned media, and by bringing a brand’s products directly into the living room, that impact can be multiplied at a fraction of the cost.

Paying for media is a necessary component to any brand campaign. Creative work defines the brand’s look and feel, and savvy media buyers can make sure the message gets in front of the right (and right-sized) audience. 

Public relations is an amplifier. By connecting a personal or brand message to conversations already taking place in the media, the potential reach of that message grows. Coinbase didn’t lose steam because competitors also bought Super Bowl ads; the fact that cryptocurrency was a massive story out of the weekend only lent further attention to their clever QR code advertisement. PR can take a successful brand campaign to the next level by leveraging assets in a new way creating a wave of earned media opportunities. When the message really connects, PR pays for itself several times over.