Internet domain registrar and Web hosting firm Go Daddy is known for its edgy, racy TV ads. But as Barb Rechterman, CMO and Senior EVP for the Scottsdale, Az.-based company explains, Go Daddy's business strategy may be more conventional than people imagine.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted February 4, 2010)
When many people think of Go Daddy, the first images often are Super Bowl ads with Danica Patrick, banned Super Bowl ads with Danica Patrick and a business blueprint that loves to push the buttons of network censors. But when it comes to ROI and improving brand awareness, Go Daddy has a track record that would hold up in most boardrooms across the nation.
The company was founded by businessman Bob Parsons in 1997 as Jomax Technologies using funds from the sale of his first business, Parsons Technology, to Intuit in 1996. Jomax was renamed Go Daddy in 1999 and became an accredited ICANN domain name registrar in 2000. At the time, the dot.com landscape was akin to the wild, wild West, with lots of land-grabbing and relatively few rules by which to abide. Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 has infamously become known as the Dot.com Bowl because of the feeding frenzy of 17 Internet-based companies that bought air time on ABC (which was asking $2.1 million for a 30-second spot ), including Epidemic.com, OurBeginning.com, LifeMinders.com and LastMinuteTravel.com. Only a few lived to tell the tale and are still advertising in the Super Bowl, including Monster.com and E*Trade.
Go Daddy didn't enter the Super Bowl picture until 2005, a year after Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" episode during Super Bowl XXXVIII. The company immediately established its irreverent attitude by airing a spot on Fox during Super Bowl XXXIX that evoked the wardrobe malfunction situation. In the ad, a well-endowed "Ms. Nikki Cappelli" is seen testifying at the "Broadcast Censorship Hearings." During her "testimony" a strap on her shirt breaks, followed by text directing people to an uncensored version at GoDaddy.com. A later ad spoofed the MLB congressional hearings regarding steroids by showing women who "enhanced," including Patrick, who used Go Daddy to enhance her Web site.
Go Daddy has been a steady, and irreverent, Super Bowl customer ever since. In "Shower," which aired during Super Bowl XLIII, race car driver and lead Go Daddy girl Danica Patrick is seen showering and is then joined by another woman. Their two spots in Super Bowl XLIV, "Spa" and "News," both of which star Patrick, also send people to GoDaddy.com for extended versions. There, the company has posted a spot rejected by NBC, "Lola," featuring an effeminate ex-football player who creates a successful online business with the help of Go Daddy selling lingerie. Another spot, "Movies," had been approved by CBS put had to be pulled when, according to Go Daddy, "issues related to licensing arrangements with various studios arose." Go Daddy said it is still working to get approval to show the spot in the future, in which Patrick gets to channel such actresses as Marilyn Monroe (in the classic scene from The Seven Year Itch in which Monroe's skirt flies upward as she stands above a subway grating), Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science and Jennifer Beals from Flashdance.
The company, which boasts 7.5 million customers and more than 50 services and products, has a significant investment in auto racing with Patrick, drivers Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and other marketing deals; professional poker player Vanessa Russo; and Anna Rawson from LPGA. Separately, Go Daddy was among the first companies to send aid following the earthquake in Haiti, donating $500,000 to Hope For Haiti.
Barb Rechterman, CMO and Senior EVP for Go Daddy, has been with Bob Parsons since the early days of Parsons Technology. She spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about Parsons, Danica Patrick and the marketing and business strategies that make Go Daddy go.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How long have you been working with Bob Parsons?
Barb Rechterman: This year marks 24 years with him at Go Daddy and before that at Parsons Technology.
NYSJ: So can I call you the original 'Go Daddy' girl?
BR: (Laughs) Oooh. Yeah. That would be great!
NYSJ: It doesn't sound as if things just got interesting, more like things have been interesting there for a while.
BR: Oh, yeah.
NYSJ: At what point when Go Daddy was building itself as a domain name registrar did the strategy come to do edgy ads that pushed the envelope?
BR: At Go Daddy, we market pretty much differently than any other company. And it's different in a couple of ways. We tend to test a lot. And while that's not unique, what is unique is that when we find something that works we continue to spend on it until it doesn't work. Many companies have an advertising budget. I really don't have an advertising budget. We produce our own ads with Go Daddy Productions and we buy our own media. And we continue to fill our advertising with the spots we produce that work. And when we feel they no longer work, we produce new spots.
NYSJ: This will be Go Daddy's sixth Super Bowl. How did the first Super Bowl media buy happen?
BR: Here's how that came about. In 2004, we surveyed our customers and asked, 'Given our prices, which are the most inexpensive on the Internet for domain names, why doesn't everyone do business with us?' And the answer we got back was, 'Everybody doesn't do business with you because everybody doesn't know about you.' So we said to ourselves, okay, if they don't know about us how can we get our name out there and get everybody to know us?
NYSJ: Was it a difficult decision to spend the money to buy air time during Super Bowl XXXIX, when Fox was asking $24. million for a 30-second spot?
BR: What happened was after we got the results of the survey, Bob came into my office and said, 'I've been thinking. I think we should do the Super Bowl.' Of course, I immediately went into a panic attack. 'Are you kidding me?!' I said. 'Do you know how much it costs to run in the Super Bowl?' It's got to be over $2 million.' He said, 'Oh, yeah. I've already looked into it. Let's think about it . . . oh, for the afternoon.' And two hours later we were advertising in the Super Bowl.
"We really haven't had anyone say to us, 'Uhh, Go Daddy, oh, no' that I can recall. My guess is that if you're coming in with a checkbook the door will open."
NYSJ: That was Super Bowl XXXIX on Fox, the year after the 'wardrobe malfunction' incident on CBS. Did you have a problem with the network?
BR: I can tell you that in the first year [after the Janet Jackson incident], ads were being scrutinized more extensively [than in previous years]. And we deal directly with the networks, so I can't tell you what the NFL said once they got involved. But the first spot we aired was touch-and-go not because of the network but in what we wanted it to say. At that time we had about 30 products; now we have over 55 products. So in 30 seconds it was going to be a difficult challenge to explain this is what Go Daddy does. So we said, given that we're never going to get it out in 30 seconds, let's run an ad that will make people remember our name and remember us. And at the end send them to our Web site to look at the extended footage and to see everything else that we do. We had the network version and the extended footage version right from the beginning. So from that initial Super Bowl buy until now, that has been our strategy.
NYSJ: Do you feel the networks scrutinize Go Daddy differently?
BR: Maybe not differently, but since our first ad, they've started to look for us. They're starting to figure it out.
NYSJ: Do you feel that Go Daddy started the tactic where ads are purposely made too edgy or sexy so that they are rejected, allowing companies to get the publicity without having to pay the Super Bowl price?
BR: Our goal is not to get banned. In fact, our goal is quite the opposite. Here's the story. The very first Super Bowl ad for us right out of the gate worked for us, and we knew it worked. It actually played off the wardrobe malfunction And every ad subsequent in that style has worked for us. So we tend to build creative ads that are going to be what we term 'Go Daddy-esque.' They are going to be a little edgy. They are going to be a little inappropriate. But the point is that we know they work. So the problem is finding creative we know works that fits with the [respective] network. This year, CBS approved four of the five spots we submitted. We really didn't submit 'Lola' to be rejected and we were surprised when it was. 'Lola' was actually approved by Spike, FX and Comedy Central, so even though it's not going to run on CBS during the Super Bowl, we are going to use it.
NYSJ: But do you feel that others are submitting ads simply to be rejected after seeking how Go Daddy has been able to work 'rejection' into its marketing strategy?
BR: The thing is, unless you get an ad in the party, maybe you can get some minimal PR out of it. But if you are not in the Super Bowl, consumer retention goes away pretty quickly. Your ad has to run during the game to get the amount of attention that the Super Bowl brings.
NYSJ: Danica Patrick has been a great 'Go Daddy Girl' spokesperson. How has that partnership progressed and where do you see it going?
BR: We started to work with Danica in 2007 as an associate sponsor on her Indy car. Once we did that, we started to look at ways to expand our presence with her. Again, it was a case of something working right out of the gate for us and sticking with it. If you were to look at a picture of Danica this week in The New York Times, for example, she would be wearing her Go Daddy jacket and standing alongside her Go Daddy-sponsored car [as she prepares to make her ARCA stock car and Nascar Nationwide Series debuts this season]. So the beneficial byproduct of having Danica goes well beyond having her as a spokesperson. And that is something we will stay will and expand upon until it doesn't work.
NYSJ: Looking at the commercials she has been in for Go Daddy, it would seem that she enjoys pushing the envelope, such as "Shower" last year, and "Spa" in this year's game, where the woman giving her a massage tries to audition to be a Go Daddy girl, which would fit in with her persona as a race car driver.
BR: Yep. She has the right attitude. And she is involved with the creative. It works well for us. Interestingly, we didn't have any commercials rejected by NBC last year [for Super Bowl XLIII].
NYSJ: Which is Danica's favorite Go Daddy commercial?
BR: She really likes "Movies," which [had been] one of our two Super Bowl XLIV ads [along with "News," which also stars Patrick]. She had fun [becoming] Marilyn Monroe [in The Seven Year Itch], Kelly LeBrock [from Weird Science] and Jennifer Beals [from Flashdance].
NYSJ: How are you activating behind your other Go Daddy spokepersons?
BR: Vanessa Russo is a good example. We sponsored Poker on NBC last year and are anticipating doing so again this year. And [author and Internet celebrity] Marina Orlova, which is a different type of genre for us, but because she is online it enables us to build a unique relationship.
NYSJ: When you talk to networks or events about expanding Go Daddy's marketing, do you get any push-back because of a preconceived notion about the company?
BR: You know, we really haven't had anyone say to us, 'Uhh, Go Daddy, oh, no' that I can recall. My guess is that if you're coming in with a checkbook the door will open.
NYSJ: Does it seem as if Go Daddy is trying to burn the candle at both ends, positioning itself as edgy and racy but at heart building the company like conventional business people would?
BR: Well, we can do both. If you look at our business, it is booming. We are the largest domain registrar in the world. We register just about half of the domain names being registered in the world every single day of the week. So from that standpoint, business looks pretty good. And that comes from our first Super Bowl ad. Right before that Super Bowl, our share of the domain registration market share was 16% of new domain names. Now, it's about 50%. So the advertising is working for us. But it's not the only thing that's driving that market-share gain. We analyze our Super Bowl spend, as we do all every element of our advertising. We know what is working and what is not working. As far as the Super Bowl, we will continue down that path until we see it is not working. But we are not anywhere near that. Every year, we get a really nice lift off of it. And, most important, at the end of the day, people like the products and services we offer. If they didn't, the advertising wouldn't matter.
NYSJ: Go Daddy has courtside signage during college basketball, and 'Shower' and 'Movies' shows college-age guys using Go Daddy. Does that demographic comprise the nucleus of your consumers?
BR: I can't say it's the nucleus. It is important. I can tell you that, as an example, we have a large media spend in racing, obviously, for IndyCar and Nascar. So as we're planning for the Super Bowl, which itself is a broad demographic, we want to create a spot that would also appeal to the broad racing demographic. So we are looking at those two areas in particular given our large media spend in those categories.
NYSJ: What is Go Daddy looking at after the Super Bowl?
BR: The Daytona 500 is Feb. 14 and we will have a major presence throughout the Nascar season. We are also sponsoring Danica for her 12 Nationwide Series races as well as her IndyCar series. We also sponsor Mark Martin in the No. 5 GoDaddy.com car in the Nascar Sprint series. We actually are pretty active in all sports. We'll have some signage during baseball season with the Chicago Cubs. We'll have some NCAA stuff happening during March Madness and we have some NBA activation.
NYSJ: I'm sure you are pitched for marketing deals all the time. Is there any time where you turn the tables and reject what someone is offering?
BR: On, yeah! We have lots of people coming at us. And we evaluate all of the offers very seriously. But they have business decisions to make and it depends on what they need from Go Daddy. If our metrics can fit their needs, then great. If, not, we don't do the deal. Then we get to pull out our rejection stamp.