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!”
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.