A billboard advertising Super Bowl LVII in the Arizona desert. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Don’t expect to see any crypto ads this year.
Super Bowl LVI was only a year ago, but when you look at some of the ads we saw then, it feels like a much different time: one where the future of the internet was all about cryptocurrency, NFTs, and the metaverse. Companies that hadn’t even existed 10 or even three years prior spent big money promoting themselves as major Web3 players, and older, established companies tried to stake their claim in the same world. That world wouldn’t last long.
In the past year, Web3 fumbled, Big Tech stocks turned over, and AI is currently charging down the field as the hottest thing in a Silicon Valley that otherwise doesn’t have much to cheer for. The big splashy Super Bowl ads of 2022 are almost laughable in retrospect. Unless you’re one of the celebrities now facing a lawsuit for promoting crypto exchanges. Or one of the millions of people who lost money on crypto investments, thanks at least in part to the large-scale fraud that permeated the industry. Or any of the thousands of tech workers who were laid off in the past few months.
There will be no crypto ads in this year’s broadcast. A Fox Sports executive vice president of ad sales told the Associated Press that four crypto companies had actually booked or were close to booking ads this year even amid crypto’s falling prices, but they all bowed out following FTX’s collapse.
That’s a complete reversal from what we saw during Super Bowl LVI. There were so many ads from so many crypto exchanges that some people called last year’s big game The Crypto Bowl. Coinbase spent $14 million for a minute-long ad spot that was just a QR code bouncing around the screen. Crypto.com put up an ad featuring Matt Damon, who told us that “fortune favors the brave,” eToro promoted “the power of social investing,” and a little company called FTX paid Larry David to urge us not to miss out on crypto. There was also Binance, which had an anti-Super Bowl ad campaign.
Well, the Matt Damon ad is no longer available on YouTube, though that hasn’t stopped it from being a repeated source of ridicule for the actor. Coinbase laid off 20 percent of its workforce — twice. eToro also had a round of layoffs and abandoned plans to go public via a SPAC. And FTX, of course, became the poster child for the implosion of a fraud-filled and underregulated industry. Larry David got sued for appearing in its ads. The price of Bitcoin is down nearly 50 percent from where it was during Super Bowl LVI.
Crypto, which is still volatile and barely regulated, isn’t the only industry that fell from grace last year. Seemingly less risky initiatives from Big Tech companies also got Super Bowl ad play in 2022. Amazon’s Alexa commercial, which starred real-life married couple Scarlet Johansson and Colin Jost, cracked us up as Alexa’s mind-reading powers caused marital difficulties and awkward dinner parties. Of the thousands of employees Amazon laid off at the end of 2022, many worked on Alexa, which Amazon is reportedly scaling back on because the project loses billions of dollars a year.
And then there was Meta, which tried to sell both its Quest 2 VR headsets and its vision for the metaverse in a Super Bowl ad. It featured a creepy animatronic dog that loses its Chuck E. Cheese-like music gig, but with the help of a Meta VR headset, is able to play music again in Meta’s Horizon Worlds. But VR headset sales have shrunk in the last year, and Meta’s stock price plummeted in 2022. The company ended the year with the largest round of layoffs in its history.
The NFL itself even offered Super Bowl NFTs last year in a partnership with Ticketmaster, a company that since attracted the ire of every single Taylor Swift fan and also much of Congress over its ticket sales monopoly.
This year’s ads will still feature some glimpses of the (possible) future along with the standard Super Bowl commercial fare. There will be food, alcohol, and cars — including EVs again, which are now easier to find in stock and also eligible for tax credits. Apple, the only Big Tech company that hasn’t had layoffs so far, is sponsoring the halftime show. Netflix partnered with GM and Michelob for ads. Google will advertise its Pixel phones and their photo editing tools, which use AI.
Speaking of AI, we nearly got an ad that incorporated the hottest generative AI tool going these days: ChatGPT. Avocados From Mexico, a Mexican avocado advocacy organization, had planned to advertise those avocados with ChatGPT. The plan was to put a QR code in its ad that took users to a landing page where they could use ChatGPT to “engage with the brand and share the result of that engagement through their networks,” Avocados From Mexico’s vice president of marketing and innovation Ivonne Kinser told The Drum (she called this “avocado intelligence”). But the avocados were not able to get the ChatGPT feature together in time, and it was pulled.
There’s always Super Bowl LVIII. If the furor over generative AI keeps up through the year, next year’s big game may be festooned with ads from all the tech companies showing off their new generative AI-boosted services in flashy ads featuring the biggest stars in all the land — or maybe just AI-generated versions of them. Maybe we’ll call it the AI Bowl.
As for Web3, it hasn’t completely gone away. A gaming company will be giving away NFTs to promote its games in an ad purchased way back in the rosier times of October. The NFL announced there will be a Super Bowl concert in the metaverse-ish platform Roblox on Friday, which will replay every hour on the hour until Super Bowl Sunday. The league said there will be a “collection of digital items” for sale in conjunction with the concert as well. On February 4, the NFL also launched a Roblox game called NFL Super Tycoon, which “simulates an authentic business experience,” including managing payroll and taxes — surely, the very things that people are seeking in a video game about football.
It doesn’t look like there will be any official Ticketmaster Super Bowl NFTs for LVII, but I wouldn’t rule it out yet.
This story was first published in the Recode newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss the next one!