Coinbase's recent Super Bowl commercial stirred up online chatter recently, capturing consumers' attention with a simple 60-second ad featuring a QR code that bounced around the screen just like a DVD logo. The ad was ranked 66th on USA Today's Ad Meter rankings with 147.5k views, and "Qr code scanner" became the breakout search term in the US during the crypto firm's commercial. Multiple media outlets including Adweek reported that the ad was done in collaboration with Accenture Interactive.

A week after the initial buzz surrounding its Super Bowl ad, the company has once again come under the spotlight on social media after CEO Brian Armstrong described the development of the ad to be an in-house process. "No ad agency would have done this ad," Armstrong said, which led him to be called out by CEO of The Martin Agency, Kristen Cavallo.

Cavallo tweeted in response to Armstrong that the ad was inspired by the agency's presentations carried out last August and October. According to her, the pitches featured ad concepts for the Super Bowl with floating QR codes on a blank screen.

In a series of 11 tweets, Armstrong painted a picture that its Super Bowl spot was an in-house effort, with a brief mention of "an outside agency" pitching the team a series of "standard Super Bowl ad ideas" which he did not like as they tend to be "gimmicky, celebrity cameo-driven, and going for a laugh".

As such, the Coinbase team brainstormed and "came up with a bunch of wild ideas". Since the team only had a few weeks to finalise the ad, it decided to tweak one of its original ideas of using a QR code at the end and turn it into a whole ad instead, Armstrong explained.

According to Armstrong, the team came up with the DVD screensaver theme and commissioned a song from Com Truise. The ad's production budget was less than US$100k and Armstrong said the team "did an amazing job pulling this off last minute".

"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 are not trying to impress your peers at Adweek or wherever. No ad agency would have done this ad," he tweeted.

A day later, however, Armstrong backtracked and said: "Although we didn't work with a traditional ad agency, I'd be remiss not to mention the creative firm we worked with who actually created the ad, commissioned the song, and got the clearances." Armstrong added that he felt everybody was one team so he did not fully realise. That said, there was still no mention of the agency's name.

That was when The Martin Agency's Cavallo responded: "Except an ad agency did do that ad." Cavallo's tweets prompted Coinbase's CMO, Kate Rouch, to respond. Rouch explained that she and the Coinbase team "deeply value [its] partners", adding that both Coinbase and its creative partner Accenture Interactive had a "seamless fit", so much so that Armstrong thought it was a single team when the work was presented.

Rouch also explained that The Martin Agency was among the multiple agencies that pitched ideas, including 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 said.

Separately, Cavallo clarified on LinkedIn that her tweet was not about IP. In fact, she responded because Armstrong's thread could "easily have been a celebration of creativity and breakthrough thinking versus claiming credit and disregarding agencies". 

"The ad industry is filled with professionals, creative and strategic thinkers who deserve to be respected for their ideas and cleverness...Advertising is seen by everyone, but not everyone is capable of creating effective, memorable ads. That’s why so many ads fail to capture or retain attention. Respecting the discipline requires clients who value our work as an economic multiplier, and it requires an industry that knows it’s worth," she said.

"I wrote because somebody needed to. Not because it was one agency’s idea versus another. But because the whole thread was unbecoming and unnecessary. And in this case, incorrect," Cavallo added.

Despite Armstrong's and Rouch's efforts to clear the air, netizens on Twitter weren't buying their explanation. Someone described Armstrong's tweets as "self-aggrandising drivel" while another called Coinbase "grifters" and said the company's response is "dismissive". A few others also called out Coinbase for claiming credit for someone else's hard work and creativity. "It sounds like you did work with a traditional ad agency, stole their idea, didn't pay them and didn't give them any credit," one netizen tweeted.

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