TD Ameritrade and Havas Placed an Ad on the Blockchain

Company claims it's the first of its kind

Is made with ASCII art and composed of 68 different translations on a blockchain. TD Ameritrade/Havas
Headshot of Marty Swant

Late last week, TD Ameritrade planted—well, technically, embedded—a flag when they created what they said was the first ad inserted within the bitcoin blockchain.

The ad, which appears on its own landing page, is made with ASCII art and composed of 68 different transactions on the blockchain—a technology that functions like a public, unchangeable digital ledger for logging transactions. Each row features a part of the image, with the letters and numbers written in part of the blockchain function called OP_Return that allows a small area of text “like the memo space on a check,” said Havas New York creative director Peter Gosselin.

Unlike ads on Google or Facebook, TD Ameritrade isn’t actually worried about anyone seeing its ad—made with $23.15 worth of blockchain transactions. (After all, it appears on its own microsite rather than next to other content.) According to Havas New York CCO Harry Bernstein, the blockchain flag is like an exclusive sneaker with the appeal aimed at people that might already appreciate blockchain humor.

Each line also links to more information about the transaction and—due to the immutable nature of the blockchain—can not be erased, making the ad permanent. Whether you call it an ad, a stunt or a subliminal spot, the crypto-cryptic message is the same: TD Ameritrade wants to be known as a first mover for cryptocurrencies.

“If TDA is in this culture of money, this is obviously a huge part of this culture right now,” Bernstein said. “So how can we do something fun and innovative in this space? And this is the perfect example of that.”

This isn’t the first time TD Ameritrade has bragged about being a first mover with blockchain. According to TD Ameritrade CMO Denise Karkos, the company was the first to provide access to futures sales of bitcoin, the digital currency that helped make blockchain more mainstream.

“It was a continuation of TD Ameritrade’s legacy of firsts,” she said. “We were the first in mobile phone trading and in online trading. It was such a nice brand fit for us to say we have another first—the first ad in the blockchain.”

While some brands are beginning to experiment with how blockchain technology might impact the advertising industry through blockchain-enabled ad networks, some say it’s still too early for it to be fully functional. That’s partly because it’s slower than more traditional types of trading such as direct or programmatic buys. 

“If you really look at this consumer journey map to see how people are engaging,” Bernstein said, “it really is a blurry line right now about what the value it brings to our consumers.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.