This year’s crop of Super Bowl ads includes plenty of the usual suspects: expensive cars, cheap beers, big tech. But among the companies coughing up a reported $5.6 million for 30 seconds of Big Game glory is one name most people have never heard of, selling a product that many don’t know exists: Dashlane, an app that manages your passwords.
It’s not that password management is entirely novel. Dashlane has been around since 2012; its leading competitors, 1Password and LastPass, are even older. And security experts have long urged the use of a dedicated app to create and keep track of secure passwords for you. Still, Dashlane’s not exactly Budweiser. It does, though, want to be something like the Budweiser of internet safety.
No one enjoys having to remember their passwords, and nearly everyone has had at least one of them compromised; data breach repository Have I Been Pwnd counts over 9 billion exposed accounts. “It’s a universal problem, but the category’s still very small and niche,” says Dashlane chief marketing officer Joy Howard. “So we set out to create a category-defining brand in the space.”
Dashlane already has credibility in the password manager space; it’s one of WIRED’s favorites. For now, that’s still something like being a big shot in a regional bowling league. But with each new corporate breach, and each so-called credential stuffing attack that punishes password reuse, the general sense that there must be a better way continues to grow. And so Dashlane’s Super Bowl ad isn’t just a bet on Dashlane. It’s a bet that something as arcane as password management is poised to go mainstream.
“That is what we set out to do, take it out of this dark wonky space and into something that’s a no-brainer,” Howard says. “It’s a different time now. People are much more receptive to this kind of solution than they were before.”
Investors certainly think so. Dashlane can afford a Super Bowl spot thanks to a $110 million funding round last spring. Last fall, 1Password took in $200 million of outside money. And in December, two private equity companies acquired LastPass developer LogMeIn for $4.3 billion. One last big number: In 2018, research firm Grand View Research estimated that password management would be a $2 billion-a-year market by 2025. Password management is also what you might call a sticky business: Once you’re locked into one company, there’s not much incentive to switch. In fact, doing so can be a real hassle, since it requires resetting all those passwords all over again.
Those high-flying numbers might sound suspect given that so many of these services, including Dashlane, offer a version of their product for free. But Howard says the company has a high conversion rate; the $5 Dashlane plan includes a VPN and “dark web monitoring” for identity-theft protection. Besides, if there’s a chance for your brand to become the one that’s synonymous with the entire product category—the Google or the Kleenex or the Taser of web security—a Super Bowl ad starts to make perfect sense.
“You can see why a brand like this would go to the Super Bowl. You’re going for the biggest punch in terms of audience. Often we’re looking at 100 million-plus” viewers, says Derek Rucker, a marketing professor at Northwestern University and co-instructor of the annual Kellogg Advertising Super Bowl Review. “If you’re trying to get a lot of people familiar with the category or a brand you don’t know, the Super Bowl has a tremendous tactical advantage in doing that.”