Super Bowl 2012 is just under two months away, but the ad buzz has already started. While the rest of us are still wading through the current advertising barrage (also known as The Holiday Season), marketers are hard at work prepping for the next one. The biggest story so far? NBC approved a GoDaddy.com commercial–on the first draft!
Since 2005, we have been able to depend on sleazy, cheesy commercials featuring Danica Patrick and, more recently, Jillian Michaels–women who are otherwise pretty solid material for role models—putting on their best sexyfaces in the service of selling domain name registrations. And they’ve made a strategy of pushing a network’s level of decency, so that many of their television ads end with a message directing viewers to an “unrated” Internet-only version. It seems to be working out for them; last year, within just 15 minutes of GoDaddy’s Joan Rivers ad, business spiked a whopping 466%.
So, in the wake of that success, I was surprised to read that GoDaddy is changing its game plan and kicking sexy down a notch. For the first time since it began buying Super Bowl ad time, the network hosting the game (this year, NBC) has approved preliminary GoDaddy ad scripts. The reason? “We’re starting to get a little more aware of what they’re looking and what will pass and what won’t pass,” said Barb Rechterman, CMO of Go Daddy. Wow, it only took them six years.
However, Go Daddy is not planning to change its ways entirely, and become responsible about its marketing practices—Rechterman confirms the upcoming Super Bowl ads are still “hot.” Which means GoDaddy is still uniting the disparate worlds of sex and domain name registration, in ads which blatantly insult the intelligence of potential customers. GoDaddy will probably continue to tell offended parties that they’re overreacting, as they more or less told author Lara Zielin when she wrote to them protesting last year’s Super Bowl ads. As GoDaddy pointed out in their response to her letter, what they’re doing is okay because not all of their commercials are sexist, and we should be more understanding that they need to reach “multiple customer demographics.” They must think pretty poorly of these customers if they think the only way to communicate with them is through sex.
The business of controversy is a profitable one, and the practice of advertisers creating and submitting commercials which they know will be rejected is not entirely new. PETA ads are banned on a fairly regular basis; if anything, it seems a point of pride for them. But lots of ads (even the ones selling something other than omnivore guilt) are rejected as well, and experience new lives online. As with the Joan Rivers ad, the company can still win. The commercial itself may not get the same number of eyeballs as it would from a TV set, but the company gets a chance to make hay from having been banned, and people who otherwise wouldn’t care about a Bud Light ad flock to YouTube to see what was too hot for television.
Why, then, would a company like GoDaddy have any interest in playing by the rules from the get-go? Maybe they’re still smarting from losing thousands of customers last April after their CEO posted a “vacation video” of himself killing an elephant, then tried to convince us it he was just trying to help a poor Zimbabwean village. When I read the news, I thought for a split second that perhaps GoDaddy is shifting gears to make commercials that are actually creative, rather than cheap and raunchy for the sole purpose of ruffling feathers and making money. GoDaddy commercials have always drawn fire for being offensive, but that’s been exactly their point. Until now, any negative response from the public was ignored at best, or, at worst, fuel for the GoDaddy publicity machine. Maybe, just maybe, this is a case where one shock jock realized it pays more to listen to media consumers rather than belittle them. I’m not ready to declare victory for a critical mass just yet–there’s no proof that GoDaddy is directly responding to the people who stand up and demand more ethical media–but even a small demonstration of media adapting towards responsibility brings me hope.