How GoDaddy’s Super Bowl Ads Helped the Brand Grow Up

Plans to stay out of trouble this year

In 2013's 'Perfect Match,' supermodel Bar Refaeli made out with a computer geek.
Image: GoDaddy

After sitting out Super Bowl 50 in the wake of the prior year’s controversial puppy ad fiasco, GoDaddy is back in the Big Game. Created by New York-based creative shop Bullish, its new 30-second spot will premiere Jan. 31 on CBS’ Super Bowl Greatest Commercials 2017 special.

GoDaddy has had an eventful Super Bowl run. Back in 2005, the marketer made a name for itself by featuring a scantily clad WWE female wrestler testifying before a congressional committee while experiencing repeated wardrobe malfunctions. It was the first of many risqué Super Bowl spots to come.

By 2013, however, GoDaddy changed course slightly and ran the memorable (and some would say raunchy) “Perfect Match” spot, featuring supermodel Bar Refaeli making out with a computer geek. “By having the nerdy guy character in there, it let us say, ‘We’re a technology company,'” said Barb Rechterman, GoDaddy’s CMO. “The point of the ad was to make a statement that the shift was happening and we were making that transformation.”

GoDaddy thought it had a winner in 2015 when it poked fun at Budweiser’s iconic puppy spots, but instead landed in hot water. Its Super Bowl ad, which debuted online, featured a puppy falling off a truck and being sold to a new owner, enraging animal rights activists who claimed the ad promoted puppy mills. The company pulled the spot and threw together “Working,” which showed a small business owner skipping a Super Bowl party to work on his website.

Here are just some of the insights GoDaddy’s marketing team picked up along the way to Super Bowl LI.

Challenge

This year, the brand is targeting the same audience of small-business owners and entrepreneurs, trying to strike the right balance through humor that doesn’t push the envelope too far. Although the marketing team said it’s not taking any extraordinary measures to steer clear of controversy, its focus this year is to make the product the star of the show. “We keep rewriting the playbook every year, and this year’s another example,” said Carole Irgang, svp of brand at GoDaddy.

Goal

GoDaddy’s aim is to promote its new website-building product, GoCentral, and increase sales. “In terms of brand evolution, we’re now in a phase of making sure people understand the products,” Rechterman said. “As the brand has evolved, we’ve grown, and our plan is to continue to grow.”

Execution

This year’s spot, in some ways, is a return to 2014’s more temperate tone. The ad will reach out to small-business owners in a humorous way (the teaser features cats riding Roombas) to demonstrate what GoDaddy’s new product can do. “We’re having fun with showing people how GoDaddy harnesses the power of the internet and can help them achieve their goals,” said Brent Vartan, managing partner at Bullish.

Predictions

Brian Quarles, creative director at rEvolution, said GoDaddy’s current plan should help them meet their business objectives. “People know who they are now, so it makes sense to use the Super Bowl platform to talk about what they do and why they’re a better option than their competition,” Quarles said.

Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at Landor, believes GoDaddy’s biggest challenge will be getting consumers’ heads around its business. “They’re so known for those old ads that the challenge will be having people understand what they do,” he said. “Pouring money down the awareness pipe for them is no longer getting any value, so they need to build more meaning—along with awareness.”

Risqué can work

GoDaddy’s market share in the U.S. grew from 16 percent to 25 percent after its first Super Bowl ad in 2005; from 25 percent to 32 percent after its 2006 spot; and from 32 percent to 42 percent after its 2007 spot (all of which featured buxom women). “We did get some negative feedback from the early ads, but we reached our goal, which was to build brand awareness,” Rechterman said.

Shifting focus

As tempting as it might have been to stick with what worked, GoDaddy felt the time was right to switch marketing strategies in 2013. “Everything was growing, growing, growing, going great, but the transition had to happen for the brand to evolve,” explained Rechterman.

Be Agile

The 2015 puppy mill ad taught GoDaddy to respond quickly in the face of criticism, creating a new ad in 24 hours. “We decided to pull the ad very early as we got the negative feedback,” Rechterman said. “The lesson there is to listen to customers’ reactions.”

Take a break

After the 2015 issues, GoDaddy sat out last year’s Super Bowl to regroup and focus on its international markets. “It helped accelerate our international plans so that we were able to come back to the Super Bowl this year,” noted Rechterman.

This story first appeared in the January 30, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.