Crypto company Bitbuy hugs it out with Scottie Barnes for a second Super Bowl spot

After a successful Super Bowl debut last year, Bitbuy is heading back to advertising’s biggest event. But this year’s spot marks a changing of the (point) guard for the Canadian crypto marketplace, with the Toronto Raptors’ budding superstar Scottie Barnes taking over from former Raptor Kyle Lowry as its new spokesperson.

The company had a list of sports figures it was considering for the gig as its next spokesperson, finally settling on Barnes in April. Marketing and communications director Binu Koshy said the decision stemmed from a series of articles and social posts identifying Barnes as the team’s “resident hugger,” as well as being a personable, enthusiastic cheerleader for his teammates.

Bitbuy actually came up with the hug concept last summer, well before the recent spate of bad press surrounding FTX/SBF and the crypto industry in general. It was designed as a satirical way of demonstrating the personal service the company offers its clients, distinguishing itself from what Koshy described as the “faceless international crypto exchanges” entering the Canadian market.

Barnes’ friendly, engaging persona—which is reflected in his title of “vice-president of hugs and high fives”—felt like the perfect embodiment of the brand. (Along with rookie-of-the-year honours and the titles of certified bucket getter for Skilled Trades College of Canada, and pro basketball player/rookie spokesperson for Subway Canada, Barnes is assembling quite a resume.)

The Bitbuy spot in CTV/TSN’s Super Bowl telecast arrives amid a markedly different climate for the crypto industry than last year’s game, when the industry was riding a wave of interest and companies like FTX, and Coinbase all piled into the event, leading pundits to dub it the “Crypto Bowl.”

Since then, category leader FTX —whose spot featuring Larry David was widely regarded as one of the game’s best ads (Koshy called “the greatest ad I’ve ever seen”)—has gone from a $32 billion company to filing for bankruptcy protection, its founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried accused of swindling investors out of $8 billion, while crypto has been dismissed by many as a Ponzi Scheme and an “absolute scam.”

“It will be interesting to see what happens, this year,” said Koshy, adding that he’s been futilely trying to discover which, if any, crypto brands will be appearing in this year’s game. On Thursday, Ad Age reported that no crypto brand had announced plans to appear in this year’s game at the time of writing.

The crypto brand OKX said last year that it planned to advertise in this year’s game, but chief marketing officer Haider Rafique told the crypto website Blockworks this week that the company has scrapped those plans—which reportedly included casting Jonah Hill as SBF.

“I’m pretty sure the fact we haven’t heard anything yet, based on what they did last year with everyone leaking out their [ads], there’s a good chance that nothing is really happening in the U.S. on the crypto side of things,” said Koshy. “Lats year we rode that crypto wave because everyone else was doing it. This year we’re wondering if, by being one of the lone companies actually doing something, we can also get a lot of exposure.”

Bitby’s 60-second Super Bowl spot, “C’mon Doug,” is actually set to air sometime in the hour before kick-off. Koshy said there was a “significant” price difference between running an ad in the lead-up to the game versus the game itself, particularly since running a :60 would have would have been cost-prohibitive.

Koshy’s analysis of U.S. Super Bowl audiences found that while a typical Super Bowl spot draws 105 million viewers, spots running during the 6-6:30 p.m window typically draw about 60 million. Those numbers worked for Koshy. “I’m pretty comfortable that we should get north of 1 million viewers [on the Canadian telecast] easily, and maybe even 2 million viewers,” he said.

Written by Koshy, the spot shows Barnes interacting with a customer as he receives Bitbuy alerts during big life moments, including his marriage and the birth of his child. As the man revels in his smart trades—at one point receiving a “confirmation hug” from Barnes—his wife and even Barnes admonish him with shouted exhortations of “C’mon Doug” and “Shut up, Doug.”

The spot opens with a 10-second introduction featuring Barnes and Los Angeles actor Jared Crowe, reprising his role as the squeaky-voiced Bitbuy spokesperson. The spot points out that more than half a million Canadians are using Bitbuy to invest in crypto because of its personal touch.

The six-foot, nine-inch Barnes (identified on-screen as Scott E. Barnes) already towers over Crowe, who’s listed at five-feet, five-inches, but Bitbuy further emphasized the massive height disparity by reducing Crowe by about 20% in post-production. The height difference is further magnified as Crowe jumps into the air in a futile attempt to high-five Barnes.

The 10-second intro is a variation on an attention-getting tactic used in last year’s spot, which began with the Jared character loudly screeching Lowry’s name. “When things cut to commercial, whether it’s the Super Bowl or not, most people use that time to look at their phone,” said Koshy. “And we have that same challenge [with ‘C’mon Doug’], which opens up with a guy no one knows.

“In my opinion there’s that chance you’re going to get people tuning out,” he added. “We wanted to definitely show Scottie at the beginning, because viewers are going to pay attention.” And even if people aren’t watching when the spot begins, hearing Crowe shout Barnes’ name is a deliberate attempt to capture their attention.

Barnes and Crowe also appear in a 90-second teaser spot (see it below) that plays with the idea that Jared is convinced he and Kyle Lowry are now best friends. Debuting on Bitbuy’s YouTube channel earlier this week, it opens on Jared responding to someone ringing the doorbell, and expecting to find his  Lowry on the other side.

Barnes informs Jared that he’s a big fan of Bitbuy, and wants to become the company’s next brand ambassador. When Jared asks what he does outside of basketball, Barnes responds that he’s known for his hugging. Cue the two men bonding in Jared’s foyer (“Oh, that’s warm,” says Jared).

All of the creative featuring Barnes comes from a two-day shoot in September, during which the company shot additional content that could be rolled out on an ongoing basis. “People more want constant content that you refresh all the time,” said Koshy. There are also two additional teaser spots featuring Jared at the Bitbuy office, interacting with real Bitbuy employees while also talking about his best friend, Lowry.

Chris Powell