Commentary

Where Have You Gone, Go Daddy?

As you read this, the Barton F. Graf 9000 agency is scrambling to come up with a new Super Bowl spot and have it turned around in time to run on The Big Game on Sunday.

At least, that’s my bet, given the brouhaha this week about Go Daddy releasing, and then pulling, its Budweiser puppy-parodying Super Bowl spot, AKA the most tone-deaf and incomprehensible use of a pooch ever seen in a commercial.

I knew the minute I caught its “debut” on the “Today Show” that something sinister was up. Naturally, NBC, the network host to this year’s Super Bowl, has been using its “Today” platform to cheerlead for—uh, reveal—the commercials all week.

Obviously, no advertiser who has paid $4.5 million for 30 seconds of upcoming NBC airtime has ever been booed off the “Today Show’”s inviting sectional sofa. 

However, after the hosts screened “Journey Home,” there was an historic change of temperature in the studio. And yay, unto Matt, and Al, Tamron, Savannah, and Natalie, came the bitter winds of Satan, followed by the cruel floods, and the plague of locusts that augured the zombie apocalypse. Or at least Tamron shouting: “Me no likey!”

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Really, who could likey? The shockeroo payoff, showing adorable little Buddy getting bumped off a truck and finding his way through wind and storm back to the farm, was that his nice owner picks him up and tells him he was sold and is being shipped off—thanks to the Web site she built for her business on Go Daddy. A van pulls up—and there’s a split second cameo of Danica Patrick at the wheel, as the owner yells, “Ship him out!”

What a waste of money and Danica—starting with giving all that airtime to a Budweiser meme that most people only see as footage of a cute dog. Especially since most viewers are still not sure what Go Daddy does.

The twist was supposed to be hysterically edgy, but to anyone not in the bubble of the ad community, it’s incomprehensibly cruel. These days, when stray rescues are so much in vogue, and the evils of puppy mills are being exposed, with mills being shut down weekly, it's a willful disconnect on everyone’s part to imagine this bit would go over well.

Viewers were so outraged that they immediately started a petition on Change.org. And within a few short hours, Go Daddy CEO Blake Irving decided to pull the ad.

And that’s when all the conspiracy chat started—that the company did this on purpose as a PR stunt to block out all other pre-game chatter, and score the kind of cheap attention it was originally known for.

But I’m in the minority in thinking they didn’t. After all, back during the dot-com bubble era, Gerry Graf, founder of BFG9000, created one of the best Super Bowl spots ever for E-Trade. It showed a monkey dancing in a garage followed by a title card that read, “Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?” 

There are several other ironies to factor in.

In the old days (meaning 2006), when Go Daddy, a company no one had heard of, invaded the august roster of Super Bowl sponsors like Coke, Budweiser, and GM, founder Bob Parsons used crude sexual suggestion in his ads to get attention. The first ad starred a WWE wrestler and former porn star parodying Senate hearings (she loses the strap on her top, which is enough to make one of the old Senators reach for his oxygen tank). It was supposed to run twice during the game, but got pulled by the Fox network after its virgin run. Later on, Go Daddy got famous for making news with Super Bowl ads that "the censors won't let you see," like the hardly innocent spot involving women and fake beaver puppets. After a while, it seemed disingenuous.

The idea of running a Super Bowl commercial to direct viewers to go to the Web site to see the X-rated banned ad was Parsons'—and it showed an intuitive genius for changing behavior, guiding would-be customers from TV to the Web to check it out.

For better or worse, and as rude and low as the spots were (and for the life of me, I could never understand why a groundbreaking female Indy Car driver like Danica Patrick wanted anything to do with standing in a shower with other Go Daddy “girls”), the ads worked. The company had the apparatus to track exactly how that enormous Super Bowl buy converted into sales. And Parsons also had some sort of native genius in picking talent like Patrick early on.

Three years ago, the company was sold to a private-equity firm. They installed Irving as CEO, and he did what all responsible new corporate executives would: search for a legitimate, “grown-up” agency.

This resulted in hiring Deutsch, which certainly has had its share of triumphant Super Bowl spots—Darth Vader for VW, for one. Sad to say, the otherwise creative powerhouse came up with two years of pretty bad Super Bowl spots, one famously showing a nerd kissing a supermodel (slurp), and another (last year) showing Danica running in a fake muscle suit. These were slightly less offensive and tacky, but also a new kind of stupid: expensive stupid, with one foot in the old babe-alicious image camp and another trying to get attention for being modern.

This year, Go Daddy execs hired BFG9000, another agency known for wonderful creative. Again, there was the same problem: straddling the company’s old reputation for inappropriate ads with an attempt at contemporary edginess. Big fail.

As a company, Go Daddy needs to establish a new brand identity, with a tone all its own. Perhaps the biggest irony is that the best ad for Go Daddy ever, created for Coca-Cola, will be seen on this year’s Big Game. Yup, Wieden & Kennedy will run a Coke spot featuring Danica Patrick in her NASCAR uniform, with the Go Daddy logo prominently shown near her neck the entire time. She speaks sensitively about her experiences with online bullying. It’s powerful and terrific.

Final irony: This year’s Super Bowl ad focus is on doggies and daddies. Boy, did Go Daddy yank the wrong chain. But one thing is certain: Everyone will be watching for the redo.

23 comments about "Where Have You Gone, Go Daddy? ".
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  1. Marke Rubenstein from Skull Communications llc, January 29, 2015 at 2:42 p.m.

    BL: You nailed it with this post. There is talk on the internet that Go Daddy did this for publicity. We know that isn't true (too expensive and stupid). Having started my career in PR, I can tell you, "There is such a thing as bad publicity." I am teaching now and using this example in my course.

  2. Steve Hall from Adrants, January 29, 2015 at 2:45 p.m.

    I honestly do hope Go Daddy figures things out, finds a sustainable position for themselves and begins to act like a grownup. I know it's asking a lot but I think they can do it. As for that Coke spot with Patrick, that's just really great work!

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, January 29, 2015 at 3 p.m.

    Anything with deflated footballs and a zing of missing cleats will work. Throw in Buffalo Wings and you have a winner.

  4. Michael Draznin from Draznin Consulting, January 29, 2015 at 3:17 p.m.

    Barbara - You nailed it thoughtfully and eloquently as usual. My followup question is how did it get as far as it did!? Ok, I can actually think of numerous ways that are part of the day to day business. Still, I can only say, #superbadtaste!

  5. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, January 29, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.

    In a world where there are now stores offering gourmet dog food and dog desserts, and where wallets are open at the sight of a single pooch with a watery eye, and where the child at risk poverty rate is 22% (16 million children) yet minimum wage seeks to keep these people at disasters door, and we continue to ignore funding for early education, the lack of which leads to heightened incarceration rates, and drug abuse, I totally expect the outrage that Go Daddy elicits with its little doggy in peril spot. Personally, it wasn't hugely funny, nor was it very scandalous. We have just become completely humorless.

  6. Ernie Schenck from Ernie Schenck Creative, January 29, 2015 at 3:36 p.m.

    I'll go beyond the idea that GoDaddy and Gerry Graf did it all for publicity. It's also being floated out here that this was just a setup for the real Superbowl spot, that somehow is going to justify the incredibly massive amount of outrage the spot has provoked. Could be. Anything is possible in this era of faking out the consumer. Somehow, though, I think it is what it is. A really bad case of misjudging the market.

  7. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, January 29, 2015 at 3:56 p.m.

    So apparently the lesson here is that cheap tits and ass jokes are fine but sell a puppy and you go straight to hell.

  8. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, January 29, 2015 at 4:01 p.m.

    I still can't figure out how no one told them that this was just wrong.

  9. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, January 29, 2015 at 5:11 p.m.

    I grew up in the land of Ogilvy where the character and integrity of the brand connected their values through information that in turn changed hearts and minds which opened wallets. To do great advertising around that took mastery, not trickery. I will sit out this sad time in our industry where ideas, value props and taglines have been replaced by shock and gall. Over it. Thanks for a great read.

  10. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, January 29, 2015 at 5:27 p.m.

    Agencies, even great ones, sometimes get it wrong. Go Daddy's made a name for itself using bad taste to get people to think about Domain registration, about as dull a topic as there is. BFG9000 tried to go there.....and failed (although really, folks, it's no worse than the famous "Buy this magazine or I'll shoot this dog" cover of National Lampoon back in the heyday (and, yes, they managed to sell a ton of ads).

    My take: it ain't great, but it's a whole lot more wholesome, tolerant and even American than some of the political ads I see. This is a tempest in a $2,000,000 tea-pot.

  11. Michael Draznin from Draznin Consulting, January 29, 2015 at 5:41 p.m.

    @claudiacaplan I'm not sure how you arrived at that conclusion. Neither BL's column nor the comments I've read so far seem to suggest that. I know that's not what I had in mind when I chimed in (above).

  12. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, January 29, 2015 at 5:41 p.m.

    The advertising path for Go Daddy is littered with all kinds of, well, litter, as Barbara Lippert eloquently reminds us. They would do well to reconsider their whacko/tasteless positioning, especially now that there are so many alternatives to the service they provide. Square Space, with their quiet/classy/self-affirming campaign, comes to mind.

  13. Michael Draznin from Draznin Consulting, January 29, 2015 at 6:19 p.m.

    This is too rich. FastCompany publishes an article abt GoDaddy's marketing, "When your brand is built on sexist advertising, how can you prove to the world that you've changed? One executive's very personal quest…" "After a decade of grossly offensive advertisements objectifying scantily-clad women, website domain provider GoDaddy is trying to convince the world that its tasteless days are over." http://www.fastcompany.com/3041434/strong-female-lead/why-godaddy-is-finally-trying-to-repairing-its-sexist-reputation

  14. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 29, 2015 at 7:50 p.m.

    It isn't funny or humorous in any way, just way too stupid. As someone pointed out, the woman has a Glenn Close, Cruella Deville look. Point ? Let them make coats ? on the coattails of Budweiser ? Until the people using "the company" turn their backs on "the company" of dead dogs (the CEO is also know for killing elephants rather than readdressing them), the puppies will keep crying.

  15. George Parker from Parker Consultants, January 29, 2015 at 9:58 p.m.

    Barbara...
    Obviously, now that Bob Parsons is no longer running this shitasmic show, he has time on his hands, and has decided to organize another of his famous safaris. As a cost saving tactic, he is downsizing from elephants to dogs. Danika will drive his jeep - Semi-Naked.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  16. andrew ault from Advertising, January 29, 2015 at 10:20 p.m.

    Conspiracy theory or not, what is interesting/troubling/sad for me is that GoDaddy believes that of all the people who want to register a domain name for, oh I don't know, maybe starting a business or blog or something their passionate about, they think the best segment to go after are the total-lowest-common-denominator-fratboy-douchebag-moron set who, presumably, want to make websites about really crappy stuff? I can't believe that's a huge market. Sure, there are lots of morons and sexist and racist dipsh*ts out there, but most of them can't count to three let alone deal with Dreamweaver or learn HTML5. Why would anyone want their business model, and customer base, to be all about the cro-magnons (apologies if their target has to look that up)? It's a different approach, I'll give them that. But there is such a bigger, and more interesting, nicer, fun and dare-I-say "glamorous" audience out there earnestly looking to figure out how to make www.myname.com (that nobody else is marketing to) that makes me just look at everything GoDaddy does ad-wise and think ____ (imagine any offensive image that GoDaddy might use in an ad). In related news, people know there is register.com, right?

  17. chuck phillips from chuck inc., January 30, 2015 at 12:40 a.m.

    appears I'm in the minority but I thought that spot was super funny. And I'm sorry they bowed to pressure to pull it because I've grown weary of this endless sea of puppy worship.

  18. Tracy Levitz from Adverteria, January 30, 2015 at 9:20 a.m.

    What Claudia Caplan said. And I know exactly what she's saying. There may be some pearl-clutching but at the end of the day, the cheap T&A joke still goes to air.
    That said, no, I wouldn't advise the puppy spot. Not because it's wrong and tone-deaf but because the current climate selectively perceives it to be that way.
    To address that, I would've advised making the spot a two-parter. The first a cliff-hanger and the second a happy ending with the puppy saved and responsibly re-homed with the aid of Go Daddy products. Simple.
    My family and myself have been involved in rescue and rescue organizations-- before it became a hip thing. We have had and currently have rescue pets. I also know that with rescue's booming popularity have come some issues and controversy (google "Piper the Sheltie"). Maybe some quarters doth protest too much?
    Bona fides out there, I thought the concept was funny and perhaps even poking fun at people like me. People who flatly refuse to watch any movie or TV show featuring an animal-in-peril. People like me, who are regular users of the "Does the Dog Die?" website. I'm one of those people, and I took the spot as a joke.
    But, hey. We live in a world where satire must be clearly labeled. And we live in a world that, as another comment put it, a "tempest in a $2 million teapot" conveniently distracts from our continued difficulties to consistently women with both wit and intelligence.

  19. Michael Atkin from Michael Atkin Communications, January 30, 2015 at 10:14 a.m.

    Think Michael Draznin's original comment poses the key question: how is it possible that there was no one in any of the meetings leading to this finished spot that didn't see this coming and raised the red flag? Perhaps it's the old story of The Emperor's New clothes - nobody wanted to look dumb by raising the issue - utterly obvious to anyone who watches even a moderate amount of real world tv and notices how the average person thinks and reacts. My guess is that the idea that any client/agency pair could be so tone deaf is so appalling to our "smart" industry that a conspiracy theory is the only palatable explanation. Remember "New Coke"?

  20. Eric Gutierrez from Hey,, January 30, 2015 at 8:08 p.m.

    Disruption is good, but humor has gotta be smart. I hate it when political correctness kills a really good smart comedic play. But I hate it equally when dumb, safe and trying-too-hard shoots itself in the foot. Nobody laughs. It just makes everybody uncomfortable.

  21. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 30, 2015 at 8:45 p.m.

    No, sadly, people do not know register.com. How would they know it better than hope it's gone daddy or know they could do the same thing even if they found it on a search engine ? And yes, people are indebted to emperors and constantly seeing things that are not there. The turn over at agencies are probably greater than people turning in their graves about this.

  22. Jim English from The Met Museum, January 31, 2015 at 10:42 a.m.

    Thanks Barbara, "incomprehensible " is correct. Still, I think the folks at GoDaddy enjoy being the bad boys of advertising.
    You gave them the grade of "D" for their 2007 "party" spot (with Danica, Bob Parsons, and porn star Candice Michelle ). I propose an "F minus" for this year's effort.

  23. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq, February 2, 2015 at 10:24 p.m.

    Finally catching up on my Super Bowl commercials reading. I guess if I had been paying more attention to the Today Show last week, I would have realized that the Go Daddy puppy spot landed like a lead balloon. And I agree that it seems unlikely they'd pay $4.5 mil for such bad publicity (followed by a lame spot they aired yesterday). Your point is well taken, Barbara that they need a new brand image. And yes, after all these years I barely understand what their product is, and that's bad advertising.

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