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The Super Bowl is now being called ‘Crypto Bowl’ as upstart finance firms spend millions on T.V. ads

February 3, 2022, 11:00 PM UTC

In a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Miami Heat basketball star Jimmy Butler said: “On Feb. 13, you’re going to hear some of the biggest names telling you to get into crypto. But they don’t know you, or your finances. Only you do. Trust yourself… and do your own research.”

The hitch? The video was an ad from Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Binance’s Chinese-Canadian CEO Changpeng Zhao is now the world’s richest crypto billionaire, and ranks No. 15 on the list of the world’s wealthiest people with a net worth of $73.4 billion—that’s before counting his crypto cash—according to Bloomberg estimates.

Binance’s Butler video was a nod to the fact that some of its biggest rivals have shelled out big bucks to secure ad spots during the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 13—and which some people are now calling ‘Crypto Bowl.’

Bahamas-based FTX and Hong Kong and Singapore-headquartered Crypto.com—which rank in the top 10 crypto exchanges worldwide, according to CoinGecko—have likely paid millions for 30-second ads during the upcoming championship game. Additionally, Canada’s Bitbuy teamed up with Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry for a Super Bowl commercial, marking the first time that a Canadian crypto firm has partnered with a professional sports star.

The exchanges that bought Super Bowl spots didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Super Bowl broadcaster NBC has sold all of its commercial time for the upcoming game—with the network asking as much as $7 million for a 30-second spot, up 27% from last year. Forty-percent of this year’s advertisers are new companies.

The “Super Bowl moment has a particular value that just doesn’t exist elsewhere,” says Dave Sutton, CEO of marketing consultancy TopRight. And for newer companies like cryptocurrency exchanges, which are less-established and traditionally seen as riskier, a Super Bowl ad could offer an invaluable return on investment (ROI), marketing experts say.

The Super Bowl is perhaps the “best vehicle” for smaller, lesser-known brands to generate awareness, says the University of Delaware’s John Antil, an associate professor of marketing who focuses on Super Bowl advertising. Like all brands, crypto companies need to create awareness, engagement, and build consumer trust. But the mainstream perception that crypto investments are risky means that the latter is especially significant—and showing up in an established and expensive event like the Super Bowl cultivates legitimacy and trust, says Andrew Simon, global creative lead and chief creative officer at public relations and marketing consultancy Edelman Canada.

Super Bowl’s audience reach is also enormous, with one commercial during the championship generating immediate awareness, says Simon. With the potential to reach over 100 million viewers, the “big game is a high risk [and] high reward competition for brands… [to] score the most audience attention in the shortest amount of time,” adds Sutton.

Still, marketing professor Antil says that there remains “considerable debate” over whether Super Bowl ads are worth the price. “No one has yet come up with a good way to measure [the] ROI of a Super Bowl ad. It’s very difficult to convert most factors gained from the broadcast to a dollar value,” he said. At least five or six crypto companies will be featured in Super Bowl commercials this year. The ‘Crypto Bowl’ could turn out just like the Dot-Com Super Bowl of 2000, he cautioned. “Most dot-com companies in the [2000] broadcast didn’t last until next year,” Antil says.

Some say it might be Binance’s self-produced Twitter spot that could end up having a leg up over its competitors. Binance is letting its rivals shell out for primetime ads to generate mainstream crypto awareness—but saving its own marketing dollars for elsewhere to tell its own brand story, says Sutton. This “counter-programming approach” is smart, if well-played, says Simon. He says the exchange is positioning itself as “the offering that’s on the side of investors. It’s a smart way to stand out leading up to the big game, and afterwards.”

And unlike its main competitors, Binance hasn’t pursued splashy endorsement deals with professional sports teams, leagues and stars. In recent months, FTX and Crypto.com have made headlines for their arena naming rights deals and partnerships with pro athletes, like LeBron James and Tom Brady.

A Binance spokesperson told Fortune that these crypto brands are going “head-to-head” during the Super Bowl, “recruiting big celebs to coax audiences… without educating them on crypto [fundamentals].” The company’s Jimmy Butler commercial is only the start of a social campaign beginning Feb. 7—to include a yet-to-be-named musician and athlete—that’ll ironically tell consumers: “Don’t listen to celebs about your financial freedom. Learn crypto and trust yourself.”

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