Ploy or Not, Puppy Ad Controversy Puts GoDaddy In Super Bowl Spotlight Again

GoDad­dy has a his­to­ry of push­ing the enve­lope. Despite wide­spread spec­u­la­tion its lat­est ad con­tro­ver­sy was inten­tion­al, the strat­e­gy works.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

GoDad­dy has a long his­to­ry of push­ing the enve­lope with its Super Bowl ads. The brand has pulled a com­mer­cial that was met by a back­lash from con­sumers, but there is wide­spread spec­u­la­tion the con­tro­ver­sy was inten­tion­al. And it’s a strat­e­gy that works for them year after year.

The day before Bud­weis­er released its long-await­ed 2015 Super Bowl spot fea­tur­ing the tri­umphant return of its plucky pup­py, Inter­net domain reg­is­trar and web host­ing com­pa­ny GoDad­dy announced it was pulling its own pup­py ad and work­ing on an alter­nate 30-sec­ond spot for game day.

GoDad­dy, which is no stranger to con­tro­ver­sial Super Bowl con­tent, had said in an ear­li­er press release that it intend­ed to air the spot, Jour­ney Home, with a gold­en retriev­er pup­py and long­time spokes­woman Dan­i­ca Patrick to “reflect the jour­ney of many small busi­ness own­ers who have to be tena­cious to tri­umph.”

How­ev­er, the small busi­ness own­er in this case was a pup­py breed­er who sold the dog via her GoDad­dy web­site, which elicit­ed neg­a­tive con­sumer reac­tion after it was released on Jan­u­ary 27.

GoDaddy’s New Stars

Pri­or to the ad’s debut, CMO Barb Rechter­man told Momen­tol­ogy the brand had shift­ed in recent years from brand aware­ness to a focus on its util­i­ty to small busi­ness own­ers.

When we entered the Super Bowl [11 years ago], we were a lit­tle com­pa­ny going into the Super Bowl and try­ing to sep­a­rate our­selves a bit from Bud­weis­er, who had mul­ti­ple ads, and Pep­si, etc., and his­tor­i­cal­ly the ads were real­ly more about brand aware­ness,” Rechter­man said.

That brand aware­ness typ­i­cal­ly meant using super­mod­els in sala­cious spots, but Rechter­man not­ed the new stars of its ads are sim­ply a dif­fer­ent kind of super­mod­el.

You might not call them Bar Rafaelis, but, in GoDaddy’s eyes, [small busi­ness own­ers] are the super­heroes of this coun­try,” she said.

But it was not meant to be.

A Planned Controversy?

In a blog post, GoDad­dy CEO Blake Irv­ing wrote about the con­tro­ver­sy and said the brand would pull the spot, run­ning a dif­fer­ent ad “we hope…makes you laugh,” while reas­sur­ing con­sumers the GoDad­dy pup­py “came to us from a rep­utable and lov­ing breed­er.”

But many think it was a delib­er­ate attempt to drum up press.

Obvi­ous­ly it is their MO,” writes Augus­tine Fou, the self-described Dig­i­tal Con­sigliere.

Jason Bur­by, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­c­as at cre­ative agency Pos­si­ble, agreed.

I think this is all planned,” Bur­by said. “When have they shied away from con­tro­ver­sy? I am will­ing to bet they are lov­ing the con­tro­ver­sy. Yes, it is away from the bla­tant sex­u­al nature of past ads, so it allows them to say they are clean­ing it up, but, in the same way, this allows them to get atten­tion and break through the noise of Super Bowl week.”

In an email, a GoDad­dy rep wrote, sim­ply, “Not a ploy.”

But, Bur­by adds, “They will sure­ly deny it was inten­tion­al or planned, apol­o­gize and con­tin­ue to keep it in the news by doing so.”

So, too, said Michael Hussey, CEO of social media audi­ence ana­lyt­ics firm Stat­So­cial.

This is straight out of the GoDad­dy PR play­book. Mil­lions of peo­ple are see­ing the GoDad­dy brand name today that might nev­er have noticed before,” he said. “It works for them every year, like clock­work.”

Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

In addi­tion, Hussey also notes GoDad­dy has a unique busi­ness mod­el in which it is “a major pain in the neck to change to a dif­fer­ent domain and web host­ing com­pa­ny” and so their cus­tomer reten­tion rates “are like­ly very high and some­thing like this is going to dri­ve a lot more new cus­tomers,” which, he adds, is many more than they’ll lose.

Because of the nature of their busi­ness, GoDad­dy obvi­ous­ly believes all press is good press,” Hussey adds.

The ad “was either the dumb­est attempt to cre­ate a con­tro­ver­sial ad that I’ve heard of in years…or it was a delib­er­ate attempt to gen­er­ate buzz ahead of the Super Bowl,” echoes Greg Jar­boe, pres­i­dent of Inter­net mar­ket­ing ser­vices firm SEO-PR. “In oth­er words, the pup­py was being used as a ‘stalk­ing horse,’ i.e. a false pre­text con­ceal­ing some­one’s real inten­tions.”

Connecting With Consumers: GoDaddy vs. Budweiser

Regard­less of GoDaddy’s intent, Budweiser’s Lost Dog spot, which debuted Jan­u­ary 28, had near­ly 1 mil­lion views and quick­ly count­ing in its first day and, per Top­sy, the relat­ed hash­tag #Best­Buds gen­er­at­ed about 15,000 tweets in 24 hours.

So far, com­menters on YouTube at least seem to con­nect with the con­tent, adding posts like, “Not a dog per­son at all.…This 2015 Super­bowl com­mer­cial by Bud­weis­er though, Lost Puppy…THIS is how to do a com­mer­cial with a pup­py GoDad­dy. This one hits even ME in the feels,” and “Oh bloomin’ heck!!! Eyes are sweat­ing like crazy now.”

Tes­sa Wegert, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Enlight­en, notes this con­nec­tion Bud­weis­er has forged with con­sumers via its pup­py is some­thing GoDad­dy should have con­sid­ered.

The over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive response to the Bud­weis­er pup­py spot on which this ad was based should have been seen as a har­bin­ger for the con­sumer back­lash that GoDad­dy is fac­ing now,” Wegert said. “There’s a dif­fer­ence between a brand play­ing on heart­strings and a brand mock­ing the emo­tion­al sto­ry­telling strat­e­gy that’s become so pop­u­lar among Super Bowl adver­tis­ers and view­ers, both.”

Did GoDaddy Fumble Or Score?

Online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment guru Andy Beal said that no mat­ter what, GoDad­dy wins either way.

When you walk such a fine line, you have to accept that you will often over­step the mark and cause an uproar. They have noth­ing to lose by pulling the ad,” Beal said. “Those that like their sen­sa­tion­al­ism will see noth­ing wrong with the ad, while those that oppose it will com­mend them for their deci­sion to pull it.”

How­ev­er, there is one small point where Boston-based Jar­boe dis­agrees slight­ly with his peers.

If there is no such thing as bad press, then the New Eng­land Patri­ots have had a very good 10 days,” Jar­boe added, refer­ring to Deflate­Gate.

Con­sumer back­lash gets GoDad­dy lots of atten­tion, but is there real­ly no such thing as bad pub­lic­i­ty?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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