Coinbase executives have been left red-faced after a row broke out over who was the creative mastermind behind the exchange’s viral ad at the Super Bowl.
In an indulgent Twitter thread on Sunday, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said he had initially asked an external ad agency for pitches but didn’t like any of them, writing:
“Standard super bowl ads tend to be gimmicky, celebrity cameo driven, going for a laugh.”
Armstrong then said his team brainstormed and “came up with a bunch of wild ideas” — but were quickly running out of time.
Weary that briefly flashing up a QR code might not give viewers the time to scan it, they decided “to just make the whole ad a QR code” — throwing in a DVD screensaver theme and a cool song for good measure.
Armstrong later said Coinbase had “a lot of pushback” over whether the ad could run at all, but it was given the green light after a slew of special meetings.Confirming that production costs later came in at under $100,000, Armstrong wrote:
“I guess if there is a lesson here it is that constraints breed creativity, and that as founders you can empower your team to break the rules on marketing because you’re not trying to impress your peers at AdWeek or wherever. No ad agency would have done this ad.”
But after Armstrong had finished giving himself a pat on the back, things started to quickly unravel.
Kristen Cavallo, the CEO of The Martin Agency, tweeted Armstrong to say:
“It was actually inspired by presentations our agency showed your team on 8/18 (pages 19-24) and 10/7 (pages 11-18) with ad concepts for the Super Bowl with floating QR codes on a blank screen.”
Cavallo’s bombshell has since been retweeted hundreds of times, and undermines Armstrong’s assertion that the genius idea was conceived within the four walls of Coinbase.
The exchange’s chief marketing officer, Kate Rouch, later clapped back, adding:
“Multiple agencies — including The Martin Agency — pitched us ideas that included QR codes for several different campaigns. However none of the ideas from any of our partners were conceptually what we were looking for and remained on the cutting room floor.”
She later said that it was their “creative partner” Accenture Interactive that came up with the idea of inserting a QR code into a popular meme.
Rouch, who joined Coinbase as chief marketing officer last August, also suggested that there may have been some sour grapes on Cavallo’s part, writing:
“It’s always tough when an agency of record is chosen right before a CMO starts. Ultimately when I onboarded I made the call that the Martin Agency wasn’t a fit for Coinbase. They are a strong agency and I am sorry they left the relationship with a bad feeling. Breaking up is hard to do. I wish the team at The Martin Agency all the best.”