GoDaddy Pulls Controversial Super Bowl Ad

GoDaddy is no stranger to advertising controversy. Year after year, the company debuts racy commercials during the Super Bowl, often featuring overt sexuality, crude humor, and a variety of eyebrow-raising elements. This year, however, GoDaddy was forced to pull its commercial and "change [its] creative," the company's senior director of public relations told CRM in an email. The advertisement angered animal activists, after it seemingly depicted a puppy being sold online through a Web site built with GoDaddy solutions.

Though the company's original intention was indeed to stir up conversation, the result was not what GoDaddy expected, CEO Blake Irving explained in a blog post. GoDaddy's aim was to poke fun at Budweiser, a brand known for including puppies in its Super Bowl content. A parody of Budweiser's lost puppy ads, GoDaddy's lost puppy, which found its way home thanks to a GoDaddy Web site, struck the wrong chord in its similarity to a recent story that made headlines worldwide.

Earlier in January, a dog was abandoned at the Ayr train station in Scotland, where he was tied to a railing next to a suitcase containing his belongings and food bowls. The woman who left the Shar-Pei mix in the station claimed she sold the dog, and expected his new owner to pick him up. The connection between the situation in Scotland and GoDaddy's ad was hard to miss, critics agreed, and outrage spread quickly on social media. GoDaddy subsequently decided to remove the ad, thereby demonstrating the power social media exudes on brand sentiment.

"With thousands of 'hate' Tweets, the company has decided to pull the commercial. This is a clear demonstration of the power and influence of social media on how brands engage publicly with consumers. By GoDaddy.com listening to the masses and changing their marketing direction, they have set a new precedent that many other companies will follow on social media. Brands need to be omnipresent on social media and ensure their brand values come across in the right way, or risk the consequences," Sophie Vu, vice president of marketing at Sparkcentral, a company that enables enterprises to handle high volumes of customer service interactions over social media, says.

Even with the ad off the air and off YouTube, GoDaddy remains in hot water. Critics accuse the brand of planning to replace the ad from the start, given how quickly the company promised to introduce a new commercial. Industry experts, however, disagree. "Most likely it wasn't a marketing ploy but a planned test. Companies will often times create multiple ads and test them to smaller markets to see how they are received and how effective they are. Knowing that they had a second commercial lined up, GoDaddy [was able to] quickly replace their Super Bowl spot, which will undoubtedly have more eyeballs on it during the big game than a prerelease on the Internet," Tim Ryan, founder and chief customer officer of Tar Productions, a creative agency, says.

When it comes to GoDaddy's overall image, the brand has nothing to worry about, Brett Channer, chief creative officer at Jackman Reinvents, a customer experience consultancy, says. As for other brands, Channer recommends caution before following GoDaddy's example. "GoDaddy's decision to create but then pull this ad will not damage its brand long-term. This is just a temporary moment of buzzworthiness that very strategically taps into the hype and attention on Super Bowl advertising," he says. "However, it is dangerous for other brands to try to pull this off. It is a good media strategy—create talk without paying—but the risks of crossing the line are too great. Viewers expect GoDaddy ads to push the envelope. But for brands that typically don't, the plan can backfire and come off as not genuine," he adds.

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