Using controversy to draw attention is nothing new to Super Bowl ads or marketing in general. However, courting controversy can easily backfire on a company in unexpected ways. An example of this can be seen with the recent situation with GoDaddy. Days before the Super Bowl, social backlash over a controversial commercial led GoDaddy to pull an ad they wanted to air during the Super Bowl.
The GoDaddy ad was somewhat of a parody of a touching ad from Budweiser from 2014 that focused on the bond between a dog and one of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. The GoDaddy parody features a puppy who endures various trials to return home. A delighted owner, sees the dog and announces she had just sold the puppy on her GoDaddy website. She then tells the delivery company to ship the dog out.
You can see the ad below:
Whether you find the ad funny or in bad taste is, of course, a matter of personal preference. But as GoDaddy learned, it’s important to consider how the ad could be viewed by others and what effect it could have on a brand. Within hours of previewing the ad, the company became the subject of a lot of negative publicity.
The ad drew criticism from animal rights groups that said the ad promoted puppy mills. And many people on social media criticized the company for an ad they felt was in poor taste. Some GoDaddy users even mentioned the ad as a reason to find a new hosting service. GoDaddy promptly apologized and pulled the ad. They will run a different ad instead for Super Bowl Sunday.
“At the end of the day, our purpose at GoDaddy is to help small businesses around the world build a successful online presence,” wrote GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving in a post titled We’re listening, message received. “We hoped our ad would increase awareness of that cause. However, we underestimated the emotional response. And we heard that loud and clear. The net result? We are pulling the ad from the Super Bowl.”
As a way to build their brand, the ad fails GoDaddy on multiple fronts. Even within the context of the commercial’s storyline, the ad implies GoDaddy helps awful people build websites, as the business owner isn’t a likable character. Second, saying that GoDaddy is the kind of company that finds the sadness of animals funny, isn’t going to go over well with some consumers.
Remember, these kinds of faux pas can have a negative effect on a company’s online reputation. A company can kind itself with negative news articles and blog posts showing up in branded keyword searches.
At least, by quickly back-pedaling and pulling the ad before the Super Bowl, GoDaddy avoided worse damage to their image. And the story has a happy ending for the dog in the commercial, who has now become a part of the GoDaddy team as the Chief Companion Officer.
Interestingly, I discussed the problems with trying to use negative publicity to boost a company just a few weeks ago. You can read that article on Inc.com.