Marketing and our Messed Up Priorities: How We Got it Wrong with GoDaddy

by Ken Mueller on January 5, 2012 · 65 comments

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Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

This post is a lot longer than most of what I write here, but I hope you’ll indulge me and understand and work your way through it. This is an issue that is very important to me and I didn’t want to just gloss over it.

A few weeks back the Internet was abuzz with talk about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) legislation that was pending in Congress, and by the end of the week, much of the attention turned to web hosting giant GoDaddy.

First off, let me say that this is a tricky issue. While I’m opposed to online piracy, I’m also opposed to how far SOPA goes in terms of putting way too much power into the hands of a few corporations and the government. My friend Joey Strawn wrote a great post about what SOPA means and why it is dangerous, but this post is not about that.

This post is about something that I believe is far more dangerous than SOPA, and really gets to the core of where our priorities are in terms of marketing and what gets us angry. Or perhaps where our priorities should be and what should get us angry.

You see, GoDaddy did the unthinkable in the Internet world: they came out in support of SOPA. And the Internet and social networks went bonkers. My Twitter feed lit up as people called for a boycott of GoDaddy. Many companies, large and small, decided that they would pull their webhosting and domain registration accounts from GoDaddy in order to get them to listen. And as evidenced by their blog, they did listen:

GoDaddy post 1 Marketing and our Messed Up Priorities: How We Got it Wrong with GoDaddy

And if you want, you can read their explanation for the change in their stance on SOPA.

But again, this isn’t about SOPA. What bothers me about GoDaddy is what has bothered me for years about them, and why I’ve never done business with them, and have steered clients away from them. It’s not their stance on SOPA, and it’s not even really the infamous elephant incident (though I do find that troublesome). What bothers me is how their entire marketing and branding campaign (as exemplified by their Super Bowl ads) is built on the objectification of women.

As I posted on Facebook, I’m upset that people aren’t more up in arms about that than they are about SOPA:

my facebook status Marketing and our Messed Up Priorities: How We Got it Wrong with GoDaddy

Why haven’t we heard a concerted outcry or seen an organized effort to see people move from GoDaddy because of the way they objectify women and use Danica Patrick in their videos, TV ads, and marketing campaigns? And this is not about being a prude or being a hardcore feminist. Certainly organizations on the right and left could speak up, but why don’t we, regardless of where we stand on matters of faith or politics?

As the discussion played out on my Facebook page, an old high school buddy mentioned that he pulled his support from GoDaddy after the elephant incident, but then apologized on Facebook for not acting sooner based on their objectification of women.

Someone then made the comparison to Hooters, another company with which I take issue, particular as they bill themselves as a family restaurant, but have built their branding on beautiful women dressed in tight, skimpy clothing.

This brought input from yet another friend, who responded with this (paraphased):

As for Hooters, there’s a major difference between what they do and what GoDaddy does. GoDaddy provides a service that hundreds of others do also. Hooters makes wings that are unique, whether or not you like them or what they do.

When I then stated that I had never eaten at a Hooters, again because I object to their branding and marketing, he responded:

Ken, you said you’ve never been in a Hooters. Have you eaten their wings?

In other words, he was arguing that Hooters was creating a one of a kind product that was so good, that it didn’t really matter how they marketed. With GoDaddy we could object and take our business elsewhere, but with Hooters, there was nowhere else to go, so we should continue to eat there.

But think about it: if Hooters’ wings are all that good, then can’t they market on the superior nature of their product? And I don’t care if their wings are a little slice of heaven. I don’t care if they’re the fountain of youth. I certainly can live without them, can you? Is any product so great that we would dare to look the other way? In fact, if Hooters had come out in support of SOPA, you can bet people would’ve been up in arms, calling for a boycott.

A friend of mine spent 3-weeks as  “Hooters Girl” and has related to me her thoughts on the culture that permeates the brand:

A restaurant like that makes it appear okay to objectify women in a sexual state and a sexual state only. I’m an attractive girl carrying your food wearing a tank top showing off my boobs and booty shorts. On top of this, we were encouraged to flirt and ‘tease’ our customers in order to not only get bigger tips, but continue business. Even worse, people bring their CHILDREN in there…we had a birthday party for an 8 or 9 year old.  I mean, they have a kids menu!

I was embarrassed by my job so much that I didnt tell my family thats where i worked. At that time, I was also suffering from the affects of bulimia and anorexia, so I think obviously it had a negative effect on that as well.

I felt like a stripper with clothes on, basically. Innapropriate is not even the word to use with some patrons. They feel it is okay to brush against your butt, stare down your shirt, but the uniforms encourage that, so in return, the restaurant is basically encouraging it.

Being asked on a date is one thing, but being solicited for sex, is another. If a patron was very rude or inappropriate, they would be asked to leave [by management], but butt taps, etc, were not punishable. “Just let it go,” was a normal response.

It absolutely was my choice to work there, and it gave me a better understanding of self worth and what our society has done to women. I know there are many other women out there who are okay with being sexualised, and if that is their thing, then good luck. I would tell a woman that it’s better to work at Olive Garden than Hooters. The tips arent that much different.

The entire conversation reminded me of some comments Gini Dietrich wrote in her post, Woman Are Our Own Worst Enemies:

How can we be taken seriously when it’s all about the body and not about the brain?

As a culture, women are brought up to be fundamentally insecure. We worry about our weight and when we can start wearing make-up and getting our ears pierced and the kinds of clothes we wear.

But this is short-changing our intellectual capital, our brains, and the voices that are needed in public forums. As a society, we’re not standing for the right value and principles. And the media is making it pretty clear what people should admire about women.

Don’t get me wrong. I think a woman’s sensuality is one of our best assets. But it’s only one of our best assets.

Gini goes on to say that women are often their own worst enemies, by virtue of how they treat each other. I would say the same of Danica Patrick. And I want to be very careful when I say the women who work for Hooters. Yes, I know that jobs are hard to find. And that if it weren’t for Hooters, some of these women might not have a job or income. And, yes, perhaps some are single moms. And I  don’t mean to sound harsh, but that doesn’t let them of the hook.

What have we done to our young women? I have a 22 year old daughter of whom I am incredibly proud. She has avoided most of the drama and issues that often plague young girls and women in terms of relationships and body issues. As I commented on Gini’s blog that day:

I used to write and speak about this a lot. Our culture has done a great disservice to our young girls. Just walk down the aisle at the grocery store and look at the magazine covers. There are no real women represented. They all have personal trainers, then go through hours of makeup and hair styling, then are shot with perfect lighting. And then after all of that, we photoshop and make them “perfect”. No girl or woman can live up to that expectation. No wonder we have such a problem with eating disorders and body image issues and esteem. And no wonder our young boys grow up to objectify women because this is what they see. Would they rather have the girl next door with acne and braces or the woman on the cover? It’s no contest, and it’s sad. Very sad.

Does SOPA, if passed, have far reaching and dangerous implications? Yes. And we protested. Loudly.

But I would say that the way GoDaddy, Hooters, and others, objectify women is even more dangerous and has farther reaching implications. It’s just that they are more subtle. Which might actually be why it’s more dangerous.

Should we be concerned about SOPA? Yes. But it shouldn’t have been this that woke us up.

Where are our priorities? Are we more worried about our “rights” online, or about freeing the minds and well-being of the girls and women in our lives.

So now GoDaddy has reversed their position on SOPA and they’ve bandaged the wounds and stopped the bleeding. But I still won’t be sending them any business as long as they market and brand themselves in a way that is demeaning and damaging to women. I hope others will do the same.

Are you willing to join me in speaking out against this sort of exploitation that hides under the guise of marketing and branding? What are you thoughts? Am I off base in my thinking on this?

 Marketing and our Messed Up Priorities: How We Got it Wrong with GoDaddy
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58 comments
Ryan Van Fleet
Ryan Van Fleet

Been reading your articles for a few months. Very cool. I have professional fisherman down here in the FL Keys. Your articles have proved very helpful in building my business. Thanks!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Oh Oh Oh Oh! Think Horshack Ken!

First off I agree with you on both Hooters and Go Daddy. I used to have the LA Oil Refineries as clients. I refused to go to Hooters for lunch to take out that guy in the nomex suit and wrench who didn't see women all day to Hooters. I would say 'plenty of fine dining on the company tab with attractive women waiting on us who aren't in skimpy outfits and much better food'. And yes the Go Daddy advertising is appalling. I actually do not like Danica Patrick because of it.

And yes if your product is that good why the gimmicks? A current client in LA is trying to win a spot on EatSt on the Food Network. About 40+ Gourmet Food Trucks in the US submitted videos for voting. Who is leading? Aphrodasiac Ice Cream in Miami i think is the city run by Playboy Models and the truck has stripper poles on top that the models dance on. (see @ginidietrich is right since it is woman owned).

And if you haven't read @jmitchem 's epic Why Go Daddy Sucks blog post.....you should read it. I can find the link if you like.

ProfS
ProfS

Thank you, Ken; I have been ranting about this for years on Twitter with only one response (from a guy). Make the same recommendations to my students and clients.

BarbYouchah
BarbYouchah

Warning: This is all very stream of consciousness. I find the Go Daddy ads to be so ridiculous, bordering on outlandish and unwatchable. It should be embarrassing to them as a company that they have to stoop to "beer ad" levels to sell a product intended for what I would like to consider smart, savvy people. To flip the coin, the internet isn't all nice people looking to host a website or blog that is helpful in anyway. Perhaps Go Daddy sees their target market as the "other side" of the internet?Looking to appeal to porn, fetish and worse kinds of websites. As a person with more than an ounce of self respect I wouldn't trust a company that stoops to the lowest common denominator in order to get business. I work for a hotel and a similar vein of marketing tactics would be to target Ashley Madison or other cheating or prostitution sites customers and buy an ad campaign. It's bad business and more importantly it's unethical. Why would any large corporate customer want to be associated with my brand by doing business with me?

Erin F.
Erin F.

I read some of the comments and was struck by the idea of why we should fight a battle if we're going to lose it anyway. I don't think that's the point of fighting a battle. You enter the battle because of a certitude you have, not because of a certainty of the outcome. Besides, someone has to take a stand. If we don't, who will? We have to act, and we have to take responsibility for our actions. Will they impact GoDaddy, Hooters, or places like them? Maybe, maybe not, but they could impact the people we influence. That seems like a win to me. I say fight the battle.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

So here's the thing: GoDaddy has horrible customer service and a sub-par product. I hosted a site on GoDaddy sometime ago and experienced service outages at least once a week. Their retention strategy? Make it as difficult as possible to transfer a domain to another company to the point that most people just give up (and this pre-dates the SOPA fallout significantly). That said, GoDaddy knows their target audience: largely 20-something horndog neck-bearded webmasters and the geek crowd who scoop up domains and squat them. Incidentally, one of the first GoDaddy ads that I remember was a Super Bowl spot, firing gerbils at a target.

I don't mean to sound callous or insensitive but sex sells - period - and that mindset was largely the brainchild of the Golden Age of advertising. The big agencies of Madison Ave (BBDO, Leo Burnett, JWT et al) struck advertising gold with that. Certainly, it's an expression of cultural milieu that has been used for over 60 years. The sexist/racist attitudes expressed in some vintage advertising is really something to behold (I'm a bit of a collector of early advertising copy - some really wonderful stuff there.) Today's consumers are, in my opinion, savvy enough to separate the fact from the fiction.

Absolutely, vote with your wallet. Support companies whose business practices align with your own values.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

Great post, Ken! As a mom of 2 girls & 1 boy this is a lesson we try to teach at home. My 10 year old son has snickered at those GoDaddy superbowl ads, while his 13 year old sister squirms and blasts him! And, what further gets me is that they encourage viewers to head to the web to see alternate versions of the ads....yeah great place to point giggling, curious boys with iPods!

As far as GoDaddy...as web developers, we avoid them whenever possible!

John_Trader1
John_Trader1

I think that despite all of the excellent comments here, we could be perhaps fighting a losing battle. This post is outstanding and brings up some valid points about the difficulties than come with objectifying women by companies who exploit their physical attributes. Let's not forget though, that this is a global problem, not just inside the U.S. We can fight this tooth and nail to optimistically change the mindsets of Americans, but global sales for most of these companies usually make up the bulk of their growth potential. And if you think the problem is bad in our society, just step outside into other cultures where it is 10 times worse. Most of these consumers couldn't give a rat's butt about the objectification of women and are ravenous about the perceived beauty of our culture. And let me tell you that it sells. Big time. I won't get into international ad strategies and leveraging global marketing campaigns but I will close by saying that I agree with everyone here that shares Ken's views about how GoDaddy should be boycotted based on their objectification of women. But, as @ginidietrich points out, as long as sex sells and trash sells, which by the way constitutes a majority of the consumer market, then GoDaddy and the rest of the companies that are capitalizing on the strategy will continue to do it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

But here's the catch: Sex sells. Trash sells. Watching train wrecks, like the Kardashians, sells. So we can talk all we want about how bad it is that women are objectified, but if we take that away, it doesn't sell. Women are strippers, prostitutes, Hooters girls, models, pageant queens, and so on. All of those things objectify women. I'm not sure asking for a boycott of one company because of it is going to do anything. Because there are 20 more where they stand. Even Network Solutions, who competes directly with GoDaddy, uses a woman in their online videos. Go Granny has even been seen on a stripper pole. It sells.

Latest blog post: Talent.me and Other Apps

maryhruth
maryhruth

I could not agree more and have steered many a client away from GoDaddy's salaciousness over the past three years. So proud of you for saying this, Ken. All the cases you mention perpetuate the most insidious prejudice that exists, yet we seldom discuss how much their attitudes and approaches hurt.

Besides, in GoDaddy's case; why should anyone support a company that so obviously plays politics? Makes me sick that they have been so successful despite their non-existent ethics.

grassrootsy
grassrootsy

Great post, Ken! I've been using Godaddy for several years and have become more dissatisfied with them. Currently planning to switch things over. The objectification of women (no duh, why didn't i think of that earlier) is just one more EXCELLENT reason! Teamcloud, who is #2?

teamccloud
teamccloud

Great post. Although I'm embarrassed to say I use GoDaddy -- but only because their marketing has put them in the forefront of my mind as the company to get domain names. I couldn't tell you what the No. 2 company is. Consequently, when it came time for me to secure a domain name, I immediately thought of GoDaddy. I'm not making excuses for the objectification of women. Unfortunately, it's had a positive impact on their bottom line.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Erin F. I agree 100%, and that's my point. I'm not calling for an all out boycott. I'm calling for people to evaluate these things, vote with their dollars, and then let the company know why they are leaving, or why they won't do business with them. You fight battles because, hopefully, you believe in your cause. I have no delusions that this blog post will even make the smallest of dents in the GoDaddy bottom line. But I do know of 3 people who are pulling their hosting from them as a result. GoDaddy won't even notice that. But I felt I had to say something about it.

MattLaCasse
MattLaCasse

@kmueller62 You bet my man. I've never even considered using them for a multitude of reasons; that being one of them.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jasonkonopinski I've never worked with GoDaddy, so I can't speak to their customer service, but I do know a few, including some who have commented here, who say they are great. We all have our own experiences. I've actually had great experiences with Comcast over the years while very many hate them.

And it's not callous to admit that sex sells. Just turn the TV on and it's clear. Look at magazine covers, and it's clear. I worked closely with a number of those agencies back in the 90s and studied what they did very closely. Their job is to make money for their clients. End of story. And sadly, it is often "by any means necessary".

But it's less an issue of fact or fiction, than it is creating and/or perpetuating so called cultural standards that are impossible to recreate in the real world.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@sydcon_mktg Great to hear, and thanks for stopping by. They would say they have a target market, but by virtue of putting the ads on the Superbowl, they are reaching kids like yours as well, who are very curious!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@John_Trader1@ginidietrich Agreed, but just because something might seem to be a losing battle, doesn't mean it isn't worth fighting. This reminds me of some of the comments, I think it was yesterday, over on Spin Sucks, about whether or not we should point out PR failures, and how we do that. Many would say that trying to get rid of spin and get PR to where it should be is a losing battle. For every agency like Gini's, there are many more who are willing to cut corners, tell lies, etc. But you have to do something. Yes, it is an uphill battle. Yes, the problem is a huge problem. It's like the issue of sex trafficking in other countries (and here in the US as well) it is huge, and I do what I can to shine a light on that and support companies that are fighting that.

We have to start somewhere, and I think change can happen, one company at a time, if we raise our voices and object to what is bad, and praise what is good. It goes both ways. And one way we can do that is through awareness, but even more meaningful is how we vote with our spending.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich I agree. It sells. But we have to start drawing the line somewhere. In the world of PR, Spin sells. I'm sure you could make a lot more money at your company if you changed your practices, but you have decided to stand up for something.

I'm not calling for a boycott of GoDaddy or Hooters per se. I'm using them as an illustration for a much wider problem that we need to take care of, and soon. It comes down to voting with our dollars and letting companies know that we don't appreciate that. yes, there are those who DO appreciate the women, etc, but we need to work against it.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@maryhruth Thanks, Mary. I'll also say that while I"m not a web-developer, I have a few friends who develop Wordpress sites and they say that GoDaddy and Wordpress don't always play well together, and that they aren't the best host for a Wordpress site. But that's second hand, i have no experience with that.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@grassrootsy When you do your research, Joy, feel free to come back and let us know what company you decide to go with.

fislerdata
fislerdata

@teamccloud I used GoDaddy until a year and a half ago when I came to the same conclusion as Ken. I now steer clients away from them and to other hosts. I used Bluehost and have nothing bad to say about them. Now I use NameCheap because they have more services I need (domain registration plus SSL certificates) compared to what Bluehost offered. I offer my non-compensated endorsement for NameCheap.

Great post, Ken. Well articulated.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@teamccloud No reason to be embarrassed. GoDaddy has done an incredible job of getting the word out. Not many of their competitors spend the money they do on advertising, including during the Super Bowl. I have no clue what the number 2 company is either. I guess my thinking is the same with Hooters. If your product is so good, and you're willing to spend the money on branding and marketing, why does it have to be directed in that way? Couldn't they have done something else that would've been just as effective?

As for other hosts, I hear a lot of good things about Bluehost and others. I used to be with Powweb, but left them over a great loss in the quality of both their product and their customer service. Any company can walk you through the transfer process very easily.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich Also, I don't think we can make the assumption that if you take away the objectification of women, that it wouldn't sell. Maybe in the case of the Kardashian trainwreck, since that IS the product. But if GoDaddy is such a great company and their product and customer service are great, or if Hooters' wings are so incredibly above and beyond anyone else's wings, can't they just stand on that? When I buy a product, I want the best possible product, not something that is sold via smoke and mirrors.

I bet GoDaddy could've spent just as much money on advertising during the Super Bowl and still gotten their name out there, and done well, because none of their competitors are doing the same thing.

TedHouser
TedHouser

Excellent blog post, Ken. I support your reasons for boycotting GoDaddy. I heard a GoDaddy executive speak at a conference in Los Angeles last year and he, personally, was also against their use of objectification of women to promote their product. He came into GoDaddy thinking, like you, that they could find other ways to advertise that would be just as effective.

GoDaddy hired top marketing talent to develop new ads and performed extensive A/B testing of some really creative wholesome ads against their standard sexist ads. In a sense, with A/B testing, you are letting the public vote with their actions. It's one of the best ways to gather data about your customers because they have no idea that their performance is being measured. He showed us the ads used in the A/B test and I liked the wholesome ads more. I thought that they would have performed just as well. They were clever and witty and, well, wholesome. But the data from the campaigns showed that the public responded overwhelmingly in favor of the sexist ads. Domain registrations soared when these ads aired.

GoDaddy has learned that sex sells their product better than creativity. This doesn't make it right, but it does give their decisions some context withing the traditional marketing strategy of getting to know your customer. GoDaddy knows and understands their customer base. They were nobody before their sexy Super Bowl ads and now they are the largest registrar with a reputation for customer service that is unrivaled in the industry. It's a really tricky situation. I'm glad to see you open the discussion. @KenMueller @teamccloud

SasLeonGuerrero
SasLeonGuerrero

@kmueller62 Going Good, gaining daylight and warming up a bit after last week's cold temps. How are things in PA?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@TedHouser@ginidietrich Correct. They played it very smartly. And even now, most of their campaigns include commercials that direct you to their site in order to watch either the uncensored version of the spot, or "the spot they wouldn't let us air"...which is pretty deceptive, because most of the spots they direct you to, aren't really any more risque than the ones they are airing. People would be disappointed if they were looking for something more "erotic". It's a marketing ploy, and I agree, it is smart.

Any time something is controversial, and there is a boycott, it ends up making money. Think of things like the Last Temptation of Christ...which by most counts was a poorly made film, yet the uproar and outcry brought more attention to it.

TedHouser
TedHouser

The Super Bowl ad that put GoDaddy on the map was their first ad (the wardrobe malfunction ad). Interestingly enough, it wasn't the air time of the ad itself that gave them a return on their investment. I'm going to botch the stats here because I don't have my notes in front of me, but GoDaddy initially bought two Super Bowl time slots for the same ad. After the first airing, Fox got so much negative feedback that they pulled the second airing. This move broke their contract with GoDaddy and turned the situation into a big spectacle that made people want to see the ad and put GoDaddy on the road with talk shows, news segments, etc. The net affect was something like an additional $10 million worth of free marketing that wouldn't have materialized if the ad wasn't controversial and if Fox had simply aired the ad a second time. Like it or not (and I like it not) GoDaddy received a huge reward for not only using sex to sell, but for making it controversial enough that it became a news story.@KenMueller @ginidietrich

fislerdata
fislerdata

@KenMueller It seems as if there is a boycott of some sorts going on. Maybe not an organized boycott, but there are people who are voting with their wallets and taking business elsewhere. I'm a small company with around 30 domain names that used to be registered at GoDaddy but are now at NameCheap precisely for the reason you mention, long before SOPA.

maryhruth
maryhruth

@TedHouser@teamccloud Must jump in here to say that 1) Knowing your customer is one thing and pandering to addictions is another; and 2) the customer service at Bluehost is unparalleled, their software works far more smoothly, their prices are great, and they feel no need to sensationalize.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@TedHouser@teamccloud Thanks for weighing in Ted. And I do know that sex sells. Clearly when you look at advertising and entertainment, it sells very well. And many would argue from a pragmatic standpoint that if it works, well then it must be good. But there are a lot of things that make money but it doesn't mean they are "right".

And as for customer service, there are other hosts that offer just as strong customer service. And if you're selling customer service, why not tout that in your ads, rather than drawing us in with scantily clad women?

The fact that sex sells is more of a comment on our society and how we behave as consumers than it is on marketing, but the marketing just serves to put a rubber stamp on it.

TedHouser
TedHouser

I should add, the context of this speaker's presentation was at an e-commerce convention where GoDaddy and Zappos were both presenting on building brands around customer service. Both brands believe that their primary product is customer service and that shoes and web services are secondary products. @teamccloud

teamccloud
teamccloud

I'd have to agree with the customer service. Within an hour or two of my registering my domain the other year, I had a phone call asking if I needed help with anything.

The thought occurred to me that what GoDaddy is really selling is superior customer service. I mean, how many different ways can you sell and price domain names? That's how they have to differentiate themselves once the sexy ads lure you in.

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