Advertising, Connected TV, Creative

Coinbase Cashes In on QR Codes

What the Big Game’s big hit means for advertisers

Coinbase Cashes In on QR Codes

5 Min Read

It was one of the most talked-about ads of the night. No celebrity talent, no voiceover, no special effects —heck, no call to action or even a brand logo or name until the final second. It was just a simple color-changing QR code, bouncing around the screen like a DVD screensaver of yesteryear, set to a chiptune cover of Barrett Strong’s 1959 hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” But it had everyone talking.

During advertising’s biggest night, where brands are locked in an increasingly expensive arms race to produce big-budget ads that shock and awe, the low-fi ad stood out. Just what was this, anyway? Viewers who scanned the code during that sixty-second spot figured it out as they were directed to a website for Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange. And a lot of people solved that mystery—more than 20 million users hit its landing page in one minute; the app generated more traffic than it could handle, causing it to crash.

But besides being used to make a mysterious and memorable ad, the QR code also gave Coinbase a tool that no other brand used that night—a way to track the viewer on linear TV. Now the question on advertisers’ minds: has the QR code returned? Or was this just a one-time gamble that paid off?

While QR codes help advertisers drive site traffic and track an ad’s effectiveness on linear, when it comes to streaming TV advertising, it’s more of a creative decision than a necessary one. That’s because measurement on CTV enables advertisers to know when a viewer sees an ad then visits their website or converts afterward. No QR codes required. 

QR Codes? I Thought We Were Done with Those!

In the early 2010s, smartphones transitioned from a premium, unattainable device for early adopters to a mainstream product. And with this evolution, more people always had an internet-connected, high-quality camera on hand—ushering in the rise of the Quick Response, or QR, code. You may remember it: seemingly overnight, those little black-and-white box of pixels were seemingly everywhere. In June 2011, 14 million Americans used their phones to scan a QR code—58% of which did so from their home, while 39% scanned one in a retail store. 53% of the 14 million were between the ages of 13 and 34.

But like all things trendy and techy, the QR code eventually fell out of style. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many things that roared back into popularity during the age of lockdowns and social distancing, QR codes were suddenly being used more frequently – often used to assist the boom in online shopping or contactless ordering. And if you noticed a spike in QR codes over the last two years, you’re not alone. A September 2020 survey found that nearly 20% of consumers strongly agreed that they noticed an increase in QR codes since the start of the pandemic. Once again, those little boxes were everywhere.

The Pros and Cons of Coinbase’s Gamble

This leads us to 2022’s Super Bowl LVI. While Coinbase’s sixty-second spot still cost them a reported $14 million for the ad space, it cost next to nothing to produce – but generated a lot of interest. And thanks to its ability to track how many people were visiting the site, Coinbase was able to get a real-time look at how their ad was performing, despite it being on a linear TV channel.

But the ad wasn’t without its detractors—many online found the spot simply boring, while others couldn’t be bothered with taking the extra step. Many more might have scanned it, visited the website, and then either decided it wasn’t for them or were distracted by the game’s events or the next ad and never completed the offer to sign up—and for a spot that requires active engagement to even get the brand name out there, apathy is a kiss of death. Further, many cybersecurity experts were troubled by a major ad featuring a contextless QR code—a common tactic used in social engineering scams like phishing attacks. While an ad for such a big event was obviously vetted ahead of time for safety, some worry this may encourage scammers to try and recreate the successful ad. If that happens, it’s safe to assume that future viewers may be much more hesitant to scan a contextless QR code.   

So Should I Use QR Codes or Not?

Here’s the thing about QR codes – while they provide some sense of measurement, they don’t provide a lot of insight into your audience. QR codes can tell you how many people scanned to visit your website, what time they scanned, and their general geographic location, but not much else. And this can be very effective—especially on linear TV, where you don’t have a lot of ways to track engagement to begin with. They also provide a great way to get viewers directly to a website.

But its tracking methods are still a far cry from the more robust tools offered on Connected TV advertising platforms. With CTV advertising, you can track much more granular demographics, interests, and specific geographic locations. MNTN Performance TV’s Cross-Device Verified Visits model takes it one step further by telling you when a customer engages with your website after seeing your ad—regardless of what device they use in their household. To put this into context with QR codes, it means that a user doesn’t have to take the extra step to pull their phone, open the camera app, and engage with the code before the ad is over—rather, they can think about it and react later when they’re ready. The result is a more natural, less artificial way to meet your audience—and one where they may feel more relaxed and ready to make a purchase.

This doesn’t mean you need to ditch the QR code though—just be more strategic with how it’s used. A QR code used alongside CTV’s targeting and customizable analytics could be a force to be reckoned with, giving you the ability to find your core audience, effortlessly send them to a website to convert—then use robust marketing metrics to learn more about your audience and Cross-Device Verified Visits to catch everyone else who didn’t convert immediately.