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The Martin Agency’s CEO claims Coinbase took inspiration from its QR code Super Bowl pitch


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

February 22, 2022 | 5 min read

It was the most talked-about ad at this year’s Super Bowl, but now it appears that the origin story of Coinbase’s QR code stunt is a little more complex than viewers initially thought.


Coinbase QR code Super Bowl commerical

Yesterday, Coinbase chief executive officer Brian Armstrong offered Twitter users a little more insight into the inspiration behind the commercial, posting a lengthy thread. His rendition of events, however, are being contested by The Martin Agency’s Kristen Cavallo, who claims the idea was inspired by presentations her team made to the crypto company.

The story so far

  • Brian Armstrong claims that Coinbase bought a Super Bowl ad slot “not knowing what we would do”

  • He goes on to claim that an outside agency initially pitched Coinbase a bunch of ideas, but that he “didn’t like any of them”

  • He says his team went back to the drawing board and brainstormed a “bunch of wild ideas”

  • Running out of time, the Coinbase CEO says they went back to one of the original ideas, which had “included putting a QR code at the end” and which had been “partially inspired by Reddit’s ’Superb Owl’ commercial”

  • This is where Kristen Cavallo, the CEO of The Martin Agency, steps in and claims: “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.”

  • Ignoring (or potentially unaware of) Cavallo’s comment, Armstrong in his thread goes on to claim “we decided to just make the whole ad a QR code” and that the “team came up with the DVD screensaver theme”

  • The Coinbase boss then says his team submitted the idea for approval and “got a lot of pushback on whether we could run it at all”

  • After getting approval and running the ad, Armstrong credits his team for doing “an amazing job pulling this off last minute (and of course the production budget was tiny, less then $100k)”

  • In his 10th tweet, Armstrong says that the lesson here is “that constraints breed creativity and that as founders you can empower your team to break the rules on marketing” and that ”no ad agency would have done this ad”

  • He then goes on to claim he is “still new to marketing”

  • Finally, and contradictory to his previous statement on agencies, he credits the “creative firm we worked with who actually created the ad”, but doesn’t mention them by name (it was Accenture Interactive)

  • Kate Rouch, chief marketing officer at Coinbase, has responded directly to Kristen Cavallo, stating that ”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.”

  • Kristen Cavallo has issued a statement on LinkedIn noting that: ”The whole thread was unbecoming and unnecessary. And in this case, incorrect.”

At the time of writing, The Drum has contacted Coinbase, The Martin Agency and Accenture Interactive for comment and will update as the story unfolds.

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