Normally, a good storm can reveal where the leaks are in a boat, but the tempest that was the “GoDaddy” commercial last week did little more than puzzle me.
By all accounts, GoDaddy’s now-famously misguided commercial (named, “Journey Home”) was intended to be a parody of Budweiser’s “Lost Puppy” ad for the Super Bowl. In the end, however, I wondered if the real “dog” didn’t turn out to be “Go Daddy,” itself. Why the web-hosting giant felt the need to create an ad to compete with a beer company’s commercial was a bit mystifying to me since they’re hardly competitors in the same market.
Several articles written after the fallout of GoDaddy’s ad suggested that the company was more than miffed by last year’s hugely successful Budweiser Super Bowl commercial (“Puppy Love”), so much so that so they created a parody of it for their Super Bowl spot this year. In that Budweiser commercial, a handsome horse trainer, his Clydesdale, and an adorable puppy sucked the emotional energy out of all the other 2014 Super Bowl ads, and from its perspective, GoDaddy’s “Journey Home” commercial might have made sense. Perhaps GoDaddy thought that its own “lost puppy” commercial would pull at heart stings but avoid becoming maudlin by a surprise-twist ending it had intended to be funny. Bad call. The company failed to remember a time-tested rule of advertising: Don’t look bad by making some of your audience look bad, or in this case, feel bad, too.
But was it a bad call? Wasn’t it P.T. Barnum who said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity? “
For my part, I thought I smelled a rat as soon as I saw the GoDaddy commercial. It was so over the top that I was certain it had to be the first volley of a well-orchestrated campaign. Surely, I thought, the commercial had been pre-screened by focus groups that had liked it, but only when followed by another commercial that made sense of the first one.
I was hardly surprised, then, when within hours of the debut of the “Journey Home” commercial, Danica Patrick (the driver of the van in the “Journey Home” spot) appeared in a GoDaddy sponsored public service announcement. Wearing a GoDaddy polo shirt and holding “Buddy,” the puppy from the commercial, Patrick urged viewers to adopt rescue dogs. The PSA is now listed as “private” for anyone who was hoping to see it on You Tube.
The GoDaddy commercial was all anyone was talking about for days. Cynics (okay, me) thought to themselves: Mission accomplished. Cynics (okay, me) thought the public been “played.”
Rumors started circulating on the Internet that GoDaddy never intended to air “Journey Home” during the Super Bowl. Some people on Twitter suggested that the company would even pull the ad to heighten the hype. Perhaps it was a coincidence that animal rights advocate, Helena Yurcho, formed an on-line petition demanding the ad be pulled. By Tuesday afternoon, the petition had received over 40,000 signatures. Yurcho wrote, “Essentially, GoDaddy is encouraging private breeding/puppy mills while shelter animals wait patiently for their forever homes or worse—to be euthanized. They are also encouraging purchasing an animal online; the animal could be sold to someone who runs a fighting ring, someone who abuses animals, or to someone who cannot adequately care for the animal. Animal rights are no laughing matter and to portray them as such is cruel and irresponsible.”
GoDaddy did pull the controversial ad and wrote that it would air a different one during the Super Bowl. Company CEO, Blake Irving, wrote, “This morning we previewed GoDaddy’s Super Bowl spot on a popular talk show, and shortly after a controversy started to swirl about Buddy, our puppy, being sold online. The responses were emotional and direct. Many people urged us not to run the ad… 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. Finally, rest assured, Buddy came to us from a reputable and loving breeder in California. He’s now part of the GoDaddy family as our Chief Companion Officer and he lives permanently with one of our longtime employees.”
The GoDaddy commercial that viewers saw at half time focused on a man working at a desk while voice-over said, “This man isn’t watching the game at a party right now. He will not see ‘the puppy’ or celebrity ads….” “The puppy.” I’m still not sure if GoDaddy was referring to their puppy, or Budweiser’s.
Now that the dust has settled, I’m asking myself, “What just happened?”
At the time, I wondered, “Just how stupid does GoDaddy think we are?” and concluded: Pretty stupid. Personally, I wanted no part of being a shill for a company that, in my view, had created an offensive ad for shock value.
On my personal Facebook page, I opined that we were playing into the hands of shrewd marketing by talking about the commercial, while on National Purebred Dog Day’s Facebook page, I took an editorial stand that we would not be discussing the ad for that reason. One page fan, a GoDaddy customer, “chewed me up one side and down the other” for taking this position. She felt that the commercial should have been used as a teachable moment about the importance of going to ethical breeders for puppies. Another page friend, however, was disappointed that NPDD didn’t urge its 37,000+ page fans to boycott GoDaddy and make a bigger fuss about it.
Privately, ethical hobby breeders wrote to me expressing horror at the commercial. Animal rights activists and adopt-don’t-shop proponents also expressed outrage at the 30-second spot that they felt supported puppy mills (or breeders at all). I was thunderstruck that these polar opposites seemed to be in agreement on this, though perhaps for different reasons.
Meanwhile, USA Today reported that for the 13th time in the past 15 years, Anheuser-Busch won the newspaper’s consumer panel “Ad Meter” which ranked the Budweiser commercial the best of the Super Bowl commercials.
After all has been said and done, did anyone come out of this looking good?
Well, certainly Budweiser did, though I offer the reminder that last year, hobby breeders were unhappy with Anheuser-Busch for having placed a transparently subliminal “puppy adoption” sign” at the beginning of its popular commercial.
Animal Rights and adopt-don’t-shop proponents had to be happy. They were given a tremendous platform on which to deliver their message, and on someone else’s dime. You can’t buy that kind of organic media coverage.
GoDaddy might not be the loser some think the company would be after so public a mistake. It’s possible that there are a few newly unemployed advertising strategists looking for a job if, in fact, the “Journey Home” commercial truly was an ill-conceived idea that backfired, but there are also now millions of people who know what GoDaddy is when they may not have known a week ago. This isn’t a bad thing if you agree with Oscar Wilde who said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Rescue and animal rights proponents reacted to the ad almost immediately, but as far as I can tell, the AKC waited until the next day to issue a statement, and it didn’t post the statement on Twitter or Facebook, but on Woofipedia. The statement read, “Choosing the right breed for you is only the first of many steps to adding the right puppy to your home. It is important that you find the a responsible breeder that you can trust and who can, in turn, trust you with their furry balls of love. This year’s GoDaddy Superbowl ad is an unfair misrepresentation of the hundreds of thousands of responsible breeders providing happy, healthy puppies to families across the country. Want to know the truth about breeders? Below, we debunk a breeder myth and give an inside look at the love and devotion that goes into each and every sweet puppy face.”
I’m not sure I fared much better. Had I known then what I think I know now, I would have positioned National Purebred Dog Day’s stand differently. Ethical hobby breeders have precious few speaking on their behalf, and even from a fledgling group like NPDD, a more vigorous stand would have been helpful. We live and learn. My take-away message from this saga is that if I want National Purebred Day to one day be regarded as a credible voice for the purebred dog owner and breeder, it’s time to start acting like it.
Since I’ve used a couple of choice quotes in this piece, it seems appropriate to conclude with one more which I borrow from Pete Townshend of the rock group, The Who:“…Then I’ll get on my knees and pray…….We don’t get fooled again.”