GoDaddy, Super Bowl’s Rogue Advertiser, Will Leave The Game (EXCLUSIVE)

By cavorting about in halter tops or other skimpy clothing, several so-called “GoDaddy Girls” have flounced their way through a decade’s worth of Super Bowl commercials. Viewers may have wanted to give them a smooch.

Now the time has come to kiss the ladies goodbye.

The Scottsdale, Arizona web-domain registrar will not run an ad in Super Bowl 50, the first time it will be absent from the ranks of the game’s sponsors since 2005. That’s when the company, virtually unknown, slipped a risqué ad on to Fox’s air in which  a woman testifies before a Congressional committee clad in a revealing top that almost falls off – not exactly the stuff people expect from an event that has become a showcase for the best of Madison Avenue. This year, GoDaddy courted controversy anew by previewing an ad depicting a lost puppy finding its way home, only to be sold in puppy-mill fashion via a website its owners put together using GoDaddy services. The company decided to pull the commercial before Game Day.

“The stuff worked,” said Phil Bienert, GoDaddy’s chief marketing officer, in an interview. “Now we are at the point where we don’t need to grow brand awareness domestically any more. A platform like the Super Bowl is really not something that’s necessary for us.”

The history of Super Bowl advertising is filled with marketers who built a big name for themselves using the highly-rated football broadcast, but eventually left to pursue new promotional avenues. FedEx abandoned the Super Bowl in 2009 after nearly 20 years of running ads armed with carrier pigeons and dinosaurs. The company felt the price tag for advertising in the game had grown too steep, especially in the wake of a troubling recession late last decade. Master Lock ran a Super Bowl ad for more than 20 years showing one of its locks holding firm even after being hit by a bullet. The company bowed out in 1996.

With hundreds of millions of people tuning in to the Super Bowl every year, at some point, simply put, the message gets delivered.

GoDaddy no longer feels it needs the Super Bowl bullhorn to get the word out. The company will in the future focus more on using data to find audiences more likely to want and need its products, said Bienert. Consumer awareness of the company tops 80% these days, he said, citing research. “We have ways of reaching that part of the Super Bowl audience that we want to really focus on through other channels and other platforms.” The company also wants to focus on international markets, and has hired two large global firms – the TBWA ad agency and the MEC media-buying firm – to help it accomplish that goal.

In years past, Super Bowl ad giants like General Motors and PepsiCo have narrowed their Super Bowl activity, and their moves were often taken as a sign of weaker economics behind the pigskin showcase. Yet CBS,which will broadcast Super Bowl 50 from San Francisco in February ,has said it is nearly sold out. The network is holding on to a small number of ad berths in hopes of getting big dollars from a last-minute advertiser. CBS has sought anywhere from $4.5 million to more than $5 million for a 30-second commercial, according to ad buyers and other people familiar with the situation.

With GoDaddy absent, the Super Bowl will be missing a rogue from its advertising gallery. Despite running ads that in some years skirted the bounds of propriety and featured decidedly lo-fi production values, GoDaddy defied convention. In its early years, then-CEO Bob Parsons would regularly offer sneak previews of the company’s ads via blogs and streaming video, and urge fans to push broadcast networks to run his racy ads without forcing him to make cuts.

In doing so, the company offered a precursor to a trend that has now become the norm: releasing Super Bowl ads through social media in the weeks leading up to the game to generate interest and viral pass-along.

Over the years, GoDaddy proudly evidenced a mischievous streak. The company helped race-car driver Danica Patrick become better known with Super Bowl ads showing her taking a shower with other women in 2009 or with more muscles than some bodybuilding men in 2014.

“We are competing with the best advertisers in the world, all right? Their budgets dwarf ours,” Parsons told The Wall Street Journal in 2007. “If we don’t run an ad that stands out, we might as well take our money and shred it.”

GoDaddy has also pulled away from a long-running sponsorship it had with Patrick’s race team, said Bienert. “She is still currently a spokesperson,” he said. “We are in discussions with her about how we might extend that relationship. These are active discussions.” Patrick was not included in the company’s Super Bowl advertising in 2015.

In recent years, GoDaddy has faced something new during the Super Bowl – direct competition. Wix.com, a web-services company, made its debut in the Super Bowl in 2015 and will return to the event next year with an ad crafted by DreamWorks Animation. Squarespace, a company that helps people build websites, will also be back. In 2015, the company ran a Super Bowl spot featuring actor Jeff Bridges singing someone to sleep.

Bienert makes no apologies for the company’s eyebrow-raising Super Bowl efforts. “The risqué ads – the reason we took that approach, frankly, was because it proved effective. It helped get a brand name out there, for a company that was unknown, for a product that was relatively unknown,” he said. “And it was successful.”

Will the company ever return to the Super Bowl playing field? Only if research and data suggest that it’s a smart move, he said. “We absolutely will do it if we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

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