One of the great lessons of the dot com era was that you can’t buy your way into a successful brand with mere dollars and awareness. After all, awareness doesn’t equal preference or sales. Those who attempted to “build their brand at breakneck speed” only ended up breaking their brand’s neck. Great brands are not built from ad dollars, although there are always marketing and advertising professionals that will attempt to lead a client or employer down this path. And while Super Bowl spots can be a good fit for automotive manufacturers, job sites and beer companies whose products appeal to a wide audience, these spots can provide immense waste circulation when you are selling more specialized and technical products or services.
One notable dot com that disagrees with these lessons and was willing to put around 5% of its annual sales into two Super Bowl commercials (production and airtime) is GoDaddy.com.
In an earlier post to Marketing Today Blog, I praised Bob Parsons, the CEO of this dot com, for making a significant donation to a Tsunami relief fund. After learning Bob was going to spend the majority of his promotional budget on a Super Bowl, I, along with a good deal of other marketers, couldn’t help but offer Bob some advice. Specifically, rethink the spend. These dollars could be more effectively spent elsewhere. Great brands are built on more than advertising. Consider Starbucks, who built a great brand without much advertising, and consider the dot com failures who often used a great deal of advertising.
Advertising doesn’t have the same power it once did, and even then, that power was often greatly exaggerated. I also mentioned that just by advertising during the Super Bowl, GoDaddy.com faced negative comparison’s to dot bombs and the media was likely to seize that connection, even if Bob’s company is financially strong. Bob saw it differently. In fact, he went on to purchase a second Super Bowl ad running the same spot again, which Fox ended up pulling as the NFL deemed it offensive.
I believe this is GoDaddy,com’s first time using television advertising and it shows. Their commercial takes a jab at US government media censorship, specifically at last year’s Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction incident. Now this could have been funny. However, the script and execution are crude and the production was low quality. All in all, I, and many others found GoDaddy.com's commercials to be in very poor taste (the one that Fox refused and the one they aired). They are sexist and have a strong power to offend. Which has ended up being an even bigger part of the problem of the ad spend. (Judge for yourself, here's a link: http://www.godaddy.com/gdshop/superbowl05/landing.asp?isc=bpshdr001).
Even those that like the ad -- mainly men who like to see large breasted women paraded as sex objects -- often can't recall what GoDaddy.com does. It gets worse, it turns out the GoDaddy.com girl's background includes porn. Even as it becomes one of the most Tivoed ads of the Super Bowl, I think it is doing some serious brand damage to what should have been its target audience. After all, when you are selling legitimate business services, do you really want to tie your brand's reputation to a porn star?
At best, for a brand where it is an appropriate vehicle, buying airtime for a Super Bowl commercial could be looked at and leveraged for the enormous publicity potential alone. But in GoDaddy.com’s case, I think they blew it and then did even more damage by creating an ad that many people find offensive. Despite the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity (a statement that refers to celebrities more than corporate brands), there is. Just ask Enron, Arthur Andersen, Worldcom, Tyco and Firestone, for some extreme examples.
The best Super Bowl commercials are usually for brands that can be purchased by the general public, have compelling creative that gets the message of what a company is selling and what is different about that product or service and are "water cooler" worthy. Certainly, you want your commercial to stand out. But, while GoDaddy.com’s commercial was water-cooler worthy, it wasn't wrapped around the product. The controversy was wrapped around what GoDaddy.com did in the commercial. It is very unlikely that many of the water cooler conversations involved GoDaddy.com's actual product.
Just sample the media’s response. As one advertising commentator put it, the commercial was ineffective because it polarized the audience. The NY Post wrote. “Trashy vamp testifying before uptight censorship committee is an old idea, which is okay, except does anyone have a clue what GoDaddy.com is?” The Arizona Republic, “But who remembers what GoDaddy.com even is?” The Ledger’s five person panel of advertising professionals all agreed that the ad was disgusting and described the ad using the terms, “sleazy,” “tasteless,” and “degrading.” One panelist went on to state, “By the time it was over, I wasn't sure what it was for." Adweek wrote: “GoDaddy.com Are they kidding? This was so pre-dot combust. Been there before. I thought we were over this. I don't know what they do.” USA Today reported members of a panel watching the Super Bowl ads were offending, with one member stating, ""It was degrading, almost." Perhaps MSNBC.com's Martin Wolk may have hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "Not everyone got the memo about good taste. An ad for GoDaddy.com smacked of a vanity project with its sly reference to the name of the Internet company’s president and sole owner." Even Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield, who actually liked the ad, acknowledged, "Sure, it's blatantly sexist and juvenile..."
In the end, most of GoDaddy.com's 15 minutes of fame as the result of this single commercial will be spent on the controversial and offensive nature of the commercial, not on selling or creating preference for the company's services. In the end, even after the conversations, people will not have a good awareness of what GoDaddy.com sells and business people in the target audience for GoDaddy.com's services may feel uncomfortable with a brand that presents itself in a manner they find amusing, but is less than professional. In the end, the ad will probably most greatly benefit the model who played the GoDaddy.com girl more than GoDaddy.com itself.
Offensiveness aside, good advertising does more than drive awareness. Companies don’t make money from mere awareness. The Taco Bell dog had very high awareness, but sales fell. They pitched the dog and replaced him with something I can’t even recall. But sales went way up. Pets.com had high awareness and no sales. We all know what happened next.
It just doesn’t make sense to dump so much of your marketing budget into one vehicle or even primarily into advertising when consumers have grown so resistant to it. GoDaddy.com could have spent some of those millions buying a toll-free phone number (calling GoDaddy.com to buy its products or services is a toll call for the majority of their customers and Super Bowl watchers), PR campaigns, ads targeting IT professionals and small business people who are its key targets and on launching a referral program to encourage its strongest advocates to tell others about GoDaddy.com (aka, viral marketing). GoDaddy.com could have then partnered with companies selling complementary products and services, but it went the route of branding at break neck speed. Hopefully, GoDaddy.com has enough money to survive this kind of spending. It takes selling a lot of domains for $8.95 to get back the millions it spent on the ad it aired and the ones it didn't. Plus, it has now created a negative brand image with more consumers and business people than ever before.
Maybe GoDaddy should have pressed the pause button before submitting their Super Bowl commercial.