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Super Bowl Ads: GoDaddy May Be Up To Its Old Tricks

Analysis: A company that has vowed to put away childish things may be embracing them anew for Super Bowl XLIX

GoDaddy has done a lot of growing up since it first advertised in the Super Bowl in 2005. Now, a stunt it pulled Tuesday suggests the company is reverting back to its infancy.

GoDaddy seems to have put one over on an easily-duped populace, telling consumers it has decided to pull a Super Bowl ad it has been touting for weeks because of complaints it has received about the way it portrays a puppy at the center of the effort. But it feels like this was something the company had planned all along.

The ruckus started after GoDaddy gave a sneak preview of the ad to NBC’s “Today” program The spot, crafted by Barton F. Graf 9000, shows a clever pup being bounced out of a pick-up truck, then finding its way home over many miles of terrain, only to discover he is being sold because the web-hosting firm helped its owner discover a quick way to sell him as part of a small business she created. Reaction was decidedly tepid.

 In a posting online, the company’s chief executive, Blake Irving, said GoDaddy was taking the ad out of the game. “We are pulling the ad from the Super Bowl. You’ll still see us in the Big Game this year, and we hope it makes you laugh,” he said.

To be sure, the company’s current narrative may represent exactly what has taken place. Yet pieces don’t fit together as neatly as they might seem. How did GoDaddy pull one ad and have another one ready to go so quickly? After all, Super Bowl ads are screened weeks in advance by the network broadcasting the game as well as the National Football League, and GoDaddy had said in recent weeks it would only air one spot in the 2015 game. To have a back-up ready to roll, GoDaddy would have had to have secured approval sometime after the start of 2015.

And here’s something even more radical. After using race-car driver Danica Patrick in its Super Bowl commercials since 2007, GoDaddy will not be featuring her in Sunday’s commercial, according to Elizabeth Driscoll, a company spokeswoman. Patrick had been scheduled to be part of the 2015 campaign. That doesn’t seem like a move that is made on the spur of the moment. Small wonder, then, that the racer is appearing this week in a teaser video for Coca-Cola for its Super Bowl campaign that will take aim at online bullying and other bad digital behavior.

So it certainly seems as if GoDaddy has something even more eyebrow-raising planned for Sunday, and its puppy pitch  – a campaign the company has been touting for weeks, even going so far as to unveil the dog to be used in the now-yanked spot  – looks to be a mere feint in a much larger effort.

The company has tried to burnish a reputation over the past few years for being a mature and responsible advertiser. After years of producing its Super Bowl spots with a lot of in-house elbow-grease, GoDaddy in 2012 hired Deutsch, an ad agency that is part of the ad-agency holding company Interpublic Group. Among other marketing feats, Deutsch helped bring Snapple to wider acclaim.

Yet the new moves can’t erase history. Under former CEO Bob Parsons, GoDaddy would regularly air tawdry Super Bowl spots with low-fi production values. An early 2005 ad in Super Bowl XXXIX featuring former WWE wrestler Candice Michelle suffering from a snapped spaghetti strap on a tank top as she began to testify before a Congressional committee focused on censorship is a perfect example.

In the years that followed, Parsons would regularly keep the public updated on the company’s Super Bowl efforts, suggesting that an ad submitted to ABC was deemed too racy and had to be cut or scrapped, then asking readers of his blog what they thought about the whole thing. In doing so, he embraced the idea of social media before the term was even coined – but also showed the company’s willingness to indulge in a little hucksterism at the same time.

“It’s not a publicity stunt,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2007. Even if he never intended it to be, it was.

And that seems like the case here. An ad conveniently yanked with just hours to go before kickoff. A vow from the current CEO that GoDaddy will stay in the game. Is history repeating itself?

The company has reason to make sure it stands out. No less than three different Web-servicees companies are flocking to Super Bowl XLIX. You’ve got newcomer Wix.com, which will tap Brett Favre and ”Entourage” actor Rex Lee. And you’ve got Squarespace, a company making its sophomore turn as a Super Bowl advertiser and who has tapped the ad firm of Wieden + Kennedy- known in the industry for its outside-the-box creativity,which in recent years has been put to extraordinary use for both Chrysler and Coca-Cola.

So maybe GoDaddy felt an ad about an ill-treated puppy simply wouldn’t cut the mustard. Or maybe – just maybe – it’s maximizing a media that has fully embraced positing and airing Super Bowl ad teasers as newsworthy, rather than what the acts really are – pretenses for free publicity. If this is indeed a childish ploy, it shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded with attention or applause.

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