Skift Take

Feeling pigeonholed, the expense-tracking company is betting big on the Super Bowl to break free.

Expensify is entering the advertising world in a big way with a $5 million bang, running its first television advertisement ever during one of the most-watched broadcasts in America: the Super Bowl.

The corporate travel and expense management company wants to drastically broaden its user base, reaching beyond the corporate travel market. Arguing that every employee has a need to track expenses, the ad will kick off a larger social media campaign with the hashtag #ExpensifyThis. Two other travel companies will have an ad at the event this year as well: Turkish Airlines is returning for its third year, plus Super Bowl veteran Disney.

The game, which is between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, will be held Sunday at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and broadcast by CBS. The network is charging a record $5.25 million per 30-second spot.

“Our goal was to reach the widest audience possible,” Expensify CEO David Barrett told Skift. “How do you make the biggest impact in the shortest period of time? Well, of course, the first thing you think of is the Super Bowl.”

The company has already released a four-minute promotional music video, along with the 30-second ad. Touting itself as “the only music video you can expense,” the promo allows viewers to snap pictures of any receipts in the video using the Expensify app, with a chance to win prizes such as a diamond encrusted football and a hamburger made of gold.

Last week, the company’s website blew up with images from the ad, which stars rapper 2 Chainz and actor Adam Scott, and will air in the second quarter of the game. A day before that, the company announced on Twitter that it had changed its logo, opting for something simpler and more modern.

“Its not a bad move, but still — they’re dropping some serious coin on this,” said Dave Sutton, CEO of marketing firm Top Right Partners. “I’m not a big fan of relatively unknown companies doing Super Bowl ads.” He pointed to, a small company which ran Super Bowl ads in 1999 and 2000, featuring an expensive and much-ridiculed sock puppet mascot.

However, Sutton added that most important thing to look for is what the company does afterwards.

“These things never pay off if they rely too heavily on the ad and don’t back it up with a larger, more integrated campaign. If this is just the tip of the spear, and not just an awareness campaign, then it could work.” He cited Expensify’s larger social media campaign as something he was optimistic about.

Competitors such as Concur or Certify do not seem to bother the Portland-based startup, which states its only real competitor is the Excel spreadsheet. With over 60,000 paying customers and 6 million users, Barrett said the company is bigger than both competitors combined. However, it is unclear how it compares with Concur and Certify, which are both private companies.

“Our growth is great, there are no problems there,” said Barrett. “But the industry isn’t a good benchmark — it’s a tiny fraction of the market. We have the potential to reach every business, since every business has receipts.” Unlike Concur, Expensify is mostly geared at individual users, rather than business owners, although the brand has partnered with companies such as Snapchat and Pinterest.

It is not just businesses who need to manage receipts, Barrett added, but nearly every person does as well. This is part of the allure of the Super Bowl, which attracts over 100 million viewers each year.

“Since they’re targeting individuals, this is the exact right audience for them,” said Top Right’s Sutton.

Even so, the ad is a costly and ambitious one, and it is unclear how much it will achieve. The company has tweaked its message and online appearance, but its services are the same. It is still essentially a workplace app, and it already has a large portion of that market.

“It’s a clever ad and it’s well done, but the branding isn’t particularly strong,” said Sutton. “People are going to watch it and they’re going to remember 2 Chainz and Adam Scott, but not the name of the company, which is sort of at the end.”

Meanwhile, Disney has confirmed it will be showing an “undisclosed number” of spots at the Super Bowl. Since 1987, the brand has become a regular at the event, with the catch phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” featured in most of its ads.

Turkish Airlines has partnered with director Sir Ridley Scott, known for Alien and Blade Runner, to produce a six-minute film showcasing the city of Istanbul. The airline will run a 30-second spot in the game’s first quarter.


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Tags: corporate travel, super bowl

Photo credit: Screenshot from Expensify's promotional music video with 2 Chainz and Adam Scott. The company will air its first TV ad ever at the Super Bowl 2019.

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