Saturday, April 25, 2009
Having established what constituted a high advertising budget for its Glenfiddich brand of scotch, nearly $1.7 million, William Grant & Sons Ltd. at the end of 1998 moved its account from New York-based McCann-Erickson Worldwide to a much smaller firm, Gyro Worldwide in Philadelphia. The change marked the end of McCann’s three-year ‘‘The Friday Scotch’’ campaign. Scotch whisky was not usually a product whose advertising attracted enormous attention in the United States, simply because it was not marketed on television or radio. Nor had Glenfiddich or its family-owned Scottish distillery attained enormous exposure in the American market—despite the fact that it was the world’s leading brand of single-malt scotch. For that matter Glenfiddich’s 1998 advertising itself did not make headlines:
the real story was the gathering resurgence of scotch in general and of single-malt scotch in particular—a trend on which Glenfiddich and its competitors sought to capitalize. ‘‘About five years ago,’’ wrote Jerry Shriver in USA Today in 1998, ‘‘a wave of well-heeled consumers began rebelling against the prevailing low-fat/abstemious lifestyle.’’ Shriver went on to note, ‘‘distinctive and pricey single-malt scotches began elbowing aside generic blend whiskies. Then, cigar smokers helped revive cognac, port, and bourbon sales.’’
Despite the renewed interest in scotch among the youthful set, single-malt scotch whisky still suffered from an association with old age, according to Lisa Buckingham in the Guardian: ‘‘Think of whisky and the picture which most readily springs to mind is that of a greying cardigan wearer, nestled contentedly in a high-backed armchair. It is an impression most distillers would give their right arm to eradicate.’’ Age and the changing of the guard between generations were themes that had animated the advertising of Glenfiddich for many years.
Scotch whisky received its name for a simple reason: it came only from Scotland, which in the 1990s had some 100 distilleries. Most of these were of long standing, though few had remained in the hands of their founders’ descendants from the beginning. Thus William Grant & Sons, established in the 1850s and led some 140 years later by the great-great-grandchildren of the founders, was an exception.
The term ‘‘single-malt scotch’’ had little meaning until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Up until that time all scotch was made from malted barley and was distilled unblended; then a distiller by the name of Usher began blending high-grade scotch with less expensive varieties of whisky, using water to further extend the mixture. The resulting whisky was not only cheaper than single-malt but also weaker, which actually proved to be an advantage since it made it more appealing to a wider range of drinkers.
Another benefit to the distiller was the fact that blends were easier to control. Each batch of single malt tended to have its own level of quality, which was consistent throughout the whole batch but did not extend to future batches. The many variables in a blend actually made it more predictable, since a distiller could use varying mixtures to correct for anomalies such as bitterness.
Thanks to these factors, single-malt had all but disappeared by the end of World War II. Scotch itself continued to be popular, but by the late 1960s liquor consumption began to decline and was increasingly confined to older and older drinkers. The young, who became ever more health-conscious in the 1980s, saw liquor as something their parents drank. Yet in the early to mid-1990s there came a popular backlash against those values of the 1980s. This was accompanied by the stigmatization of ‘‘political correctness’’ and an embracing of fashions from the 1950s and early ‘60s, albeit reinterpreted for the ‘90s. The change in the zeitgeist extended to diet: thus red meat, vilified for many years, was in again. So were martinis, cigars instead of cigarettes, and single-malt scotch.
Driving the new trends toward single-malt scotch and other fashions was the same youthful market that made crooner Tony Bennett one of the most popular performers on MTV. In 1998 James B. Arndorfer of Advertising Age speculated that William Grant would introduce ‘‘shooter-type drinks aimed at young adults,’’ and though a William Grant executive declined to comment on this supposition, vice chairman Grant Gordon—great-grandson of one of the company’s founders—told a reporter for the Indian edition of Business Line that ‘‘Our targetgroup all over the world is the 25-30 age.’’ Gordon went on to add something that seemed to contradict his first statement: ‘‘Whisky is for mature drinkers.’’ What he meant, of course, was that it was not for people who had merely reached legal drinking age, a clientele more inclined toward beer. The youngest drinkers, after all, would not typically be able to afford the prices associated with higher grades of scotch. According to Peter Simoncelli, food and beverage director at the Four Seasons hotel in Chicago, ‘‘the trend is to order the 18-or 25-year-old selections at prices up to $23 a pour.’’ Such prices fit with the upscale ‘‘menus’’ of cigar bars. ‘‘Cigar rooms in restaurants provide a clublike setting,’’ said Curt Burns of Chicago’s Hudson Club, quoted in the Orlando Sentinel, ‘‘and since it takes time to smoke a great cigar, it’s tempting to sip a special spirit too. The need to spend $10 to $18 for a snifter hasn’t scared anyone off.’’ Burns was referring to brandy or cognac, but similar rules applied to single-malt scotches. Yet price, combined with the long-standing image associated with scotch, meant that brands such as Glenfiddich had to overcome resistance among the young. According to Mike Dennis in SuperMarketing, a British survey in 1997 revealed that 62 percent of regular whisky drinkers were 50 years old or older.
The British study also showed that 61 percent of vodka drinkers, by contrast, were in the 18-to-34 age group. Vodka, the star component in the martini, thus represented one of Glenfiddich’s primary competitors. Then there were the 100-plus makers of scotch whisky. Dominating the scotch industry, in terms of quality appraisal if not sales, were six distilleries that earned a five-star rating from British connoisseur Michael Jackson, arguably the world’s leading authority on scotch. These six distilleries were the Macallan, Auchentoshan, the Glenlivet, Highland Park, Lagavulin, and Springbank. As for the top scotch in terms of U.S. sales, that position was held by Dewar’s; but Glenfiddich still held the lead in Great Britain, with a 22 percent market share, and in the world, where it enjoyed a 27 percent share. According to an October 1998 report in the Herald, three brands had managed to overcome vicissitudes in the market, such as a decline in overall growth of whisky sales in Europe and North America. These three brands were Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, and Glenmorangie, each of which had reached a ‘‘respectable’’ 13 percent increase in sales during the year. Of Glenfiddich, a commentator in Off Licence News (‘‘off licence’’ is the British term for a liquor store) wrote, ‘‘It is sold in 190 nations. Considering [that] the United Nations has just 185 members, that’s pretty impressive brand penetration.’’ Hence William Grant marketing manager Patrick Tully spoke proudly of Glenfiddich as the ‘‘category captain.’’ Certainly maintenance of a distinct identity proved crucial in a heavily segmented industry. William Rice in the Orlando Sentinel quoted Ronny Millar of United Distillers as saying, ‘‘One thing is clear: if you try to duplicate a whisky at another distillery, it won’t work.’’ But in the sudden rush to single-malt brands that characterized the market during the late 1990s, numerous scotch makers either attempted to get on the bandwagon or to shore up existing offerings. Dewar’s announced plans in 1998 to introduce a ‘‘high malt content’’ 12-year-old scotch, and Bowmo represented a ‘‘cask strength’’ malt. The latter had a higher alcohol content than most single malts, up to 120 proof; Glenfiddich also marketed its own cask strength variety.
In 1996 Glenfiddich and McCann-Erickson ran 90-second spots on British television in a campaign that cost 1.5 million pounds, or about $2.5 million. The spots focused on a father and son, whose dialogue emphasized the concept of scotch as a tradition passed down through generations. At the end of the commercial, the two shook hands, and the father handed his son a small bottle of Glenfiddich.
This advertising represented a shift from past Glenfiddich marketing, which was built around images of Scottish heritage and time-honored techniques of distilling.
In the United States at about the same time,
McCann-Erickson launched ‘‘The Friday Scotch,’’ a series of print ads centering around the idea of scotch as an element of good times and celebration. During this period William Grant dramatically increased its advertising, establishing an annual budget as high as $10 million for all its brands. In 1997 it devoted $3 million to Glenfiddich and Frangelico alone, and by 1998 it was spending 1 million pounds, or about $1.68 million, on Glenfiddich.
‘‘We have outstanding brands,’’ Mark Teasdale, senior vice president for marketing, told Advertising Age in April 1998, ‘‘and we’re going to aggressively get back to building their upscale status.’’ At the same time William Grant moved away from its exclusive relationship with McCann, first by signing Grace & Rothschild of New York to handle all brands except for Glenfiddich. Teasdale suggested that the company would be reviewing its ‘‘Friday Scotch’’ campaign but declined to discuss future plans; meanwhile, as Arndorfer reported in Advertising Age, Glenfiddich sales in the stateside market had leveled off at 95,000 cases in 1996, the last year for which sales information was available.
By December 1998 Glenfiddich was running a new campaign in Britain. Posters displayed at bus stops and shopping centers asked ‘‘How much do you love your next-door neighbour?’’ and ‘‘How much do you love your father-in-law?’’ According to a report in Off Licence News, First Drinks Brands, distributor of Glenfiddich in Great Britain, had conducted research which showed that ‘‘consumers hold their beloved bottle of single malt in such high esteem that they are likely to hide it away when expecting a high influx of visitors, and offer their guest less prized drams instead.’’
William Grant spent one million pounds on the British poster campaign and by the end of 1998 was prepared for a new assault on the U.S. market—with a new advertising agency. Thus on one of the last business days of the year, December 22, the New York Times reported that the company was prepared to drop its ‘‘Friday Scotch’’ campaign. According to Teasdale, the latter had run ‘‘for about three years and delivered some solid numbers,’’ but apparently it was time for a change. That change came with the December selection of Gyro Worldwide as the U.S. agency for Glenfiddich. McCann would still handle other advertising throughout the world, but the choice of Gyro represented a clear desire to appeal to a more youthful, MTV-influenced market. The Philadelphia agency, as the New York Times reported, was ‘‘known for provocative campaigns aimed at consumers in the 20’s and 30’s for such products as clothing, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes.’’ Gyro’s techniques had not always won praise from critics of advertising: its print ads for clothing retailer Zipper Head, for instance, showed convicted mass murderer Charles Manson along with the headline, ‘‘Everyone has the occasional urge to go wild and do something completely outrageous.’’
In 1999 a new William Grant marketing director, Heather Graham, signaled the company’s interest in a new agency to handle its British advertising, primarily on television. During the spring of that year, it launched an agency review with the help of pitch consultant Agency Assessments, and by July BMP DDB had won the British account for William Grant. Universal McCann would continue to oversee media buying in the British market. If anything was clear about William Grant in general, or its Glenfiddich single-malt advertising in particular, it was the fact that changes were afoot. As Off Licence News reported in November 1998, ‘‘there are clearly busy times ahead for Glenfiddich and William Grant. Whether the brand succeeds in maintaining the momentum in the malt market or not over the next few years, no one will be able to turn around and accuse it of not trying.’’
Upon regaining its title as the world’s largest tire manufacturer in 1999, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company broke sales records and was busy collecting the tattered market shares of its competitors. Its competitor Bridgestone/Firestone Retail & Commercial Operations suffered notably in 2000, when tires made by the company malfunctioned, causing some 200 deaths. In an attempt to gain even more ground over the competition and create a campaign outside of its traditional format, Goodyear decided to embark upon a new campaign. Goodyear awarded its $60 million advertising contract to San Francisco–based Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The resulting television and print campaign, called ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear,’’ began over Labor Day weekend in 2001. The agency tailored ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ for viewers who were previously unresponsive to product-centered tire commercials. ‘‘It really wasn’t about the tires. It was more about the role that tires, and specifically Goodyear tires, play in people’s lives,’’ Cathryn Fischer, Goodyear’s vice president and chief global marketing officer, told the PR Newswire. Three different 30-second spots, all centering on the experience of travel, aired across network and cable programming. The commercials continued into 2003 and focused on universal travel themes; for instance, one spot depicted families from different cultures on road trips, all with children asking, ‘‘Are we there yet?’’ from the backseat. Aiming at a wider target than past campaigns, six print variations of ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ appeared in consumer magazines.
By 2003 Michelin North America and Bridgestone had rallied back, knocking Goodyear to the number three position. Analysts attributed Goodyear’s market slip to its restructuring attempts, which involved consolidating factories and performing cost-cutting measures. Even though ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ did not draw many accolades from the ad industry, it forced all tire makers to rethink using a technical pitch to sell their products to Americans. In 2004 Goodyear ended its relationship with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and reassigned responsibilities to Arnold Worldwide, but the company continued to use the tagline ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear.’’
Goodyear was founded in 1898 and led the world’s tire market by 1916. Throughout the twentieth century it oscillated in and out of the number one spot in the tire industry. By 1990, however, Goodyear had been suffering so drastically that it lost money for the first time since the Great Depression. With the help of CEO Stanley Gault, Goodyear by 1999 had rallied back and regained its position as market leader. Gault moved the company’s tire sales outside Goodyear’s retail stores by forging partnerships with Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Sears. Goodyear also benefited from the misfortune of its competitor Firestone when Firestone Wilderness AT tires malfunctioned on Ford Explorers. Ford replaced them with Goodyear-made tires.
In 2001 Goodyear ended its 15-year relationship with ad agency J. Walter Thompson, which had orchestrated Goodyear’s straight-shooting ‘‘Serious Freedom’’ campaign. The campaign included spots that explained to consumers the inner workings of tires. Advertising commentators criticized ‘‘Serious Freedom,’’ along with campaigns launched by Michelin and Bridgestone, for not differentiating the brands from one another. Except for a handful of tire enthusiasts, most consumers described tire commercials ‘‘simply as a lot of tires,’’ Fischer told the PR Newswire. In an attempt to reach a wider audience, Goodyear hired Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to craft its advertising. Saul Ludwig, an industry analyst, said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, ‘‘Goodyear is getting in with their new ad program, while Firestone is on the sidelines, and Michelin is in the process of changing their advertising. Goodyear hasn’t had a brand problem. Goodyear is acting out of strength, not out of weakness.’’
Goodyear’s new campaign targeted a much broader market than its previous ‘‘Serious Freedom’’ campaign, which had appealed to male, sports-orientated tire consumers. In contrast ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ focused on safety-minded consumers with an affinity for travel. Awareness about tire-safety issues, however, did not automatically translate into brand awareness. ‘‘Surprisingly, even with all the Firestone stuff, it’s not on people’s minds,’’ Harold Sogard, general manager of Goodby, explained in an interview with the Plain Dealer. ‘‘If you go ask your neighbors what kind they are driving on, they don’t have a clue.’’ Research conducted before the campaign showed that most consumers never purchased tires with a brand in mind. The company concluded that explaining tire safety with a heartfelt narrative would make a more vivid impression.
To make sure the ads connected with consumers, Goodyear first screened the campaign for 20,000 of its employees. A.J. Faught, vice president of Goodyear affiliate Northwest Tire & Service in Flint, Michigan, told Tire Business, ‘‘So many tire ads look so technical, which doesn’t appeal to anyone other than the enthusiast. This campaign goes straight to the point about safety. Safety is a big issue right now with consumers, who don’t want to have to worry about their tires.’’ Goodyear employees felt that the new campaign was more ‘‘touchy-feely’’ and that it would indeed strike a chord with a larger demographic.
Bridgestone/Firestone had worked its way up to be the world’s largest tire manufacturer by 2003. This was despite the fact that Firestone tires had notoriously shredded on Ford Explorers in 2000, leading to the deaths of more than 200 people. Further investigation into the tragedy’s causes shifted blame onto Ford. One source quoted a Ford Motors spokesperson as admitting, ‘‘Something about the car caused it to roll over and crash, no matter what tires it was riding on.’’ In 2000 Bridgestone/Firestone reported a $2.8 billon loss over the previous year. By 2002 Bridgestone had rebounded with a sales growth of 16.5 percent, reaching almost $19 billion and surpassing Goodyear’s $13.8 billion. Until 2001 Bridgestone had primarily advertised with sponsorships at motor-sports events. After 2000 the company began moving advertising into wider markets, shifted efforts from Firestone to Bridgestone, and premiered two TV spots at the start of the 2002 Olympic Games. For the first six months of 2001 Bridgestone spent $12 million on advertising, a significant increase from the $400,000 the same period the year before. Despite the accidents Bridgestone continued marketing Firestone tires. Grey Worldwide, the advertising firm handling the Bridgestone account, told Advertising Age in 2002, ‘‘We are not going to abandon a more than 100-year-old brand. Firestone has a rich heritage and it’s the tire you can rely on.’’
While Goodyear’s ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ campaign ran, its competitor Michelin drifted between being the second- and third-largest tire manufacturer in the world. Focusing most of its efforts in North America, the South Carolina corporation had $7 billion in sales during 2002 and grew 14 percent. In 2002 Michelin launched a television, print, and outdoor campaign that featured Michelin’s longtime mascot, Bibendum, the plump character made of white tires. The campaign’s first TV spot, ‘‘Guardian Angels,’’ was created by Palmer Jarvis DDB and capitalized on the consumer’s need for safety. The 30-second commercial featured Bibendum making snow angels, followed by the tagline ‘‘Your guardian angel this winter.’’ Another Michelin spot, ‘‘Shuttle,’’ featured Bibendum entering a NASA space shuttle, which also used Michelin tires, just before its launch. The campaign focused primarily on consumer satisfaction and safety issues, as opposed to tire performance.
Before releasing the ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ campaign, Goodyear had 20,000 of its employees preview the first television spots in August of 2001. Each 30-second commercial centered on a specific theme: carpooling, family vacations, and the morning commute. All three aired for the public during Labor Day weekend, and six print ads began appearing in consumer magazines such as Time, People, and Newsweek. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners wanted to venture outside Goodyear’s previous target market, sports-centric males. The television spots ran during a wide range of prime-time television programs, including 60 Minutes, The Drew Carey Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, and 48 Hours. Firestone’s disaster had made the public acutely sensitive to tire safety, a concept Goodby drove home with ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear.’’ The campaign attempted to imply that Goodyear’s tires would keep drivers and passengers safer, which in turn would increase consumer desire for Goodyear tires. One 30-second spot, ‘‘Carpooling,’’ which dwelled exclusively on the theme of safety, featured a young girl being carpooled. The spot’s voice-over warned, ‘‘She’s not your daughter, but if you give her a ride home, she might as well be.’’ Another spot, ‘‘Morning Commute,’’ carried a lighter tone and featured a car full of office workers. The driver was constantly swerving to avoid random furniture and housewares left in the road.
One of the campaign’s most memorable spots, first airing on September 1, 2001, featured four families from different ethnic backgrounds on road trips. The spot, directed by Bryan Buckley of the production company Hungry Man, played on the universality of bored children enduring family road trips. The commercial began with an American family traveling in a midsize sedan. A little girl in the back seat asked, ‘‘Are we there yet?’’ to which the father grunted, ‘‘No.’’ The next shot featured a second family road-tripping through snow-capped mountains, and a similar ‘‘Are we there yet?’’ exchange took place, but in subtitled Russian. A third road trip, in the middle of a rainstorm, unfolded, but this time the family spoke Chinese. The last shot featured an African family all speaking a tribal click dialect and speeding across the desert in a Land Rover. Two young boys in back asked if they had arrived at their destination yet. The mother finally snapped, ‘‘If you ask me that again, I have to stop this car!’’
Later television spots, gravitating around similar themes of safety and introducing Goodyear’s Run-Flat technology, broke in 2003. One television spot, ‘‘Screw,’’ showed a screw tumbling from a skyscraper and onto the street. After a car ran over it, a voice-over explained, ‘‘Sharp steel is no match for smart rubber. Tires with Run-Flat technology.’’ Print ads ran during 2003 as well. Harry Cocciolo, creative director for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners during 2003, told Adweek, ‘‘We tried to find ways to remind people that tires can really make a difference. The Run-Flat technology is being used by Humvees in the military. These are really great proof points that haven’t been taken advantage of.’’ Adweek selected the Goodyear commercial ‘‘Bouncing Balls’’ as one of the best spots of April 2003. The surreal spot featured a driver heading down a street that suddenly filled with bouncing balls. Seconds later children began chasing the balls. The driver slammed on his brakes, and a voice-over remarked, ‘‘The unexpected can be planned for. Tires with proven stopping power.’’
By 2003 Goodyear had again slipped to number three among tire makers. But despite the fact that ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ coincided with a decline in Goodyear’s sales (from $14.1 billion to $13.8 billion in one year), the campaign was important for reshaping the advertising paradigm that tire makers had used for years. As John Polhemus, president of Goodyear’s North American operations, told Tire Business, ‘‘It’s a dramatic departure from the type of product-and-technologyfocused advertising that Goodyear has used in the past, and quite frankly, a departure for the tire industry itself.’’ In 2002 Michelin and Bridgestone began tailoring advertising efforts around safety and brand awareness instead of product design.
The majority of industry analysts blamed Goodyear’s 2002 backslide on the company’s restructuring efforts rather than on Goodby’s campaign work. The closing of factories and laying off of thousands of workers resulted in an $85 million decrease in annual operating costs. In 2003 Goodyear also sold most of its stock in Sumitomo Rubber Industries, which had sustained the company for decades. To exacerbate Goodyear’s problems even further, it became entangled in an agediscrimination lawsuit.
‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ did score minor adindustry points when Adweek chose the ‘‘Bouncing Balls’’ commercial as one of the best spots of April 2003. By 2004 Goodyear had signed its creative efforts over to Arnold Worldwide, but it continued using the tagline ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear.’’
By 2004 Go Daddy Software had become a leader in the Internet domain-name registration industry, buying available domain names and then selling themto individuals and businesses for a yearly fee. In 2004 the company embarked on its first national marketing effort, contracting New York agency the Ad Store to help make Go Daddy and the GoDaddy.com website known to mainstream America via a TV spot for Super Bowl XXXIX. That Super Bowl, played on February 6, 2005, was the first since the infamous ‘‘wardrobe malfunction’’ that had resulted in pop singer Janet Jackson’s breast being exposed on the air during the previous year’s halftime show. Among the results of the public outcry following the incidentwas increased pressure on Super Bowl advertisers to avoid risque´ images and themes. Go Daddy chose to fly in the face of this pressure by running a sexually suggestive commercial that lampooned the prevailing climate of censorship.
With a 30-second Super Bowl spot costing $2.4 million, Go Daddy’s decision to advertise twice during the game represented a considerable risk for such an unknown company. Additional production expenses approached $1 million. The spot featured a buxom woman undergoing Congressional questioning in order to gain approval to appear in a commercial for GoDaddy.com. As the woman pointed to the GoDaddy.com logo on the front of her tight tank top, one of the shirt’s straps broke, a wardrobe malfunction that was met with camera flashes and shocked exclamations as the woman continued to explain what GoDaddy.com was. The commercial aired as planned during the first quarter of the Super Bowl, but then, apparently because of the protests of a National Football League executive, Fox neglected to run the spot during the second on-air slot that Go Daddy had purchased. The spot was rated one of the Super Bowl’s most memorable, but it was the controversy surrounding the network’s refusal to air it a second time that proved to be Go Daddy’s true marketing coup. The numerous media stories about Fox’s censorship of a commercial about censorship gave Go Daddy nearly $12 million in free publicity. The company continued to run TV spots featuring the tank-top-clad woman, including a spot during Super Bowl XL that made reference to the previous year’s commercial.
Bob Parsons sold his first successful company, Parsons Technology, in 1994, and in 1997 he used the proceeds to start a new company, Jomax Technologies. Unsatisfied with the Jomax name, Parsons and his staff came up with the more arresting moniker Go Daddy. As Parsons told Wall Street Transcripts, the name worked ‘‘because the domain name GoDaddy.com was available, but we also noticed that when people hear that name, two things happen. First, they smile. Second, they remember it.’’ After an unsuccessful attempt to establish the company as a source for website-building software, Parsons reinvented Go Daddy as a registrar of Internet domain names, buying unused website names and then reselling them to individuals and businesses in need of an online presence. Go Daddy also offered auxiliary services and products enabling customers to launch their sites after the domain-name purchase, including (as in the company’s early days) software for building sites. Domain-name registration, however, was a burgeoning industry as America became increasingly wired and more and more businesses found it essential to establish a Web presence. By 2004 Go Daddy had sold nearly seven million domain names and was the world’s leading registrar of domain names. Up to that point the company had done little marketing, relying primarily on word-of-mouth buzz and low prices; Go Daddy offered domain names for $8.95, compared with fees of $35 at the industry’s high end.
In late 2004 Go Daddy enlisted New York agency the Ad Store for its first sustained offline advertising campaign. The company announced that the campaign would make its TV debut during the 2005 Super Bowl, a move that drew widespread criticism, partly because of the recent history of Super Bowl advertising undertaken by dot-com companies. Dot-com advertising on the Super Bowl had been prevalent in the late 1990s and in the first few years of the new century but had been nearly absent from the game since the bursting of the Internet bubble, leading many industry observers to connect such Super Bowl airtime purchases with the fiscal irresponsibility characteristic of failed dot-coms. Parsons argued that his company was different. As he told Brandweek, ‘‘Back in ‘99 . . . dot-coms raised money on ideas that weren’t viable. But we are the leader in our industry and actually do make money.’’
The 2005 Super Bowl presented a uniquely restrictive environment for advertisers. During the previous year’s Super Bowl halftime show a much-publicized ‘‘wardrobe malfunction’’ had occurred that resulted in the on-air exposure of pop singer Janet Jackson’s breast. The uproar surrounding this incident led some critics to address what they saw as the related indecency of much of that year’s Super Bowl advertising. 2004 Super Bowl commercials singled out for censure had included a Budweiser spot featuring flatulent Clydesdale horses and numerous commercials promoting erectiledysfunction drugs. Both the National Football League and the Federal Communications Commission were exerting pressure on Fox, the broadcaster carrying the 2005 game, to ensure that newly rigorous standards of decency were upheld during Super Bowl XXXIX.
Parsons told Brandweek that Go Daddy targeted ‘‘everyone who wants a [W]eb presence.’’ Go Daddy’s domainname prices were among the industry’s least expensive, and it offered a range of website-management services that comparably priced competitors did not; therefore, Parsons and his colleagues believed that the company would continue to grow rapidly as long as it could make a wider public aware of its brand. The Super Bowl, of course, offered one of the last giant television audiences in an age of fragmenting viewership, and it was annually the most watched television program in America by a wide margin. Super Bowl XXXIX was expected to reach 130 million U.S. viewers, though the actual number of viewers watching the game at any given time was estimated at closer to 90 million.
If Go Daddy could make a splash with an audience of this size, it could count on a much greater degree of brand awareness among the American population at large. Though that year’s restrictions on the content of Super Bowl commercials limited the degree to which advertisers could use provocative imagery and messages, Go Daddy and the Ad Store nevertheless charted an intentionally controversial course as a means of standing out from the field of high-profile advertisers. The Go Daddy commercial thus featured an attractive female model in sexually suggestive attire and in a context that directly parodied the political hysteria surrounding the previous year’s halftime incident.
Among Go Daddy’s top competitors was Network Solutions, which was introduced as a technologyconsulting company in 1979, making it a veritable ancient in the online world. Network Solutions was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation in 1993 to create a single domain-name registration service for the Internet, which effectively gave the company a monopoly in the industry of domain-name registration until 1999, when the field was opened to competition. The Internet-security and telecommunications company VeriSign acquired Network Solutions at the height of the dot-com bubble in 2000, for $15 billion (the largest Internet merger in history at that point). The company’s 2003 sale to Pivotal Equity was a measure of the changes in the dot-com world in the interim: the purchase price this time was $100 million.
Register.com was another of Go Daddy’s rival domain-name registrars. The company was founded as a domain-name registrar in 1994, and it was one of the five original companies selected for entry into the newly opened market in 1999. Like Network Solutions, Register.com had Internet-bubble baggage. The company made its initial public offering on March 3, 2000, a week before the Nasdaq peaked, at a price of $24 per share; by the end of that first trading day, Register.com was priced at $57.25 per share. Register.com shares climbed to $116 before the dot-com bubble definitively burst. By 2005 the company’s shares were hovering between $5 and $6 and were considered by many analysts to be a good value for the money.
The official price for 30 seconds of Super Bowl XXXIX airtime was $2.4 million, and Go Daddy bought two such blocks of time, intending to run the same commercial twice, once in the first quarter of the game and once just before the two-minute warning at the game’s end. (Media-industry insiders contended, however, that publicized Super Bowl advertising rates were akin to sticker prices on automobiles and that advertisers ultimately did not pay the full amount.) Go Daddy’s expenses were not limited to the media-buying cost; the company invested close to $1 million in production of its Super Bowl commercial, an amount of money equivalent to the yearly marketing budget of comparably sized companies. Part of this expense was a result of unforeseen problems with Fox in the weeks leading up to the game. As Tim Arnold, managing partner at the Ad Store, recounted after the fact in Adweek, Fox approved storyboards of the Go Daddy commercial on December 3, 2004 (just over two months prior to the Super Bowl, which was played on February 6, 2005), only to withdraw that approval on December 22, after the commercial was already in preproduction. After Fox placed new restrictions on the commercial—including a demand that the words ‘‘wardrobe malfunction’’ be removed from the script—the Ad Store shot ‘‘16 and a half’’ versions of the spot to account for all possible objections the network might yet make. The network continued to reject proposed versions of the commercial until the week before the game, at which point Go Daddy finally received grudging permission to use the airtime for which it had already paid in excess of $4 million.
The commercial reproduced the look of the C-SPAN network (known for its live coverage of Congressional matters), with a banner at the bottom of the screen informing viewers that they were witnessing ‘‘Broadcast Censorship Hearings’’ in Salem, Massachusetts. A woman named Nikki Cappelli (played by Candice Michelle), wearing a tight-fitting tank top and jeans in an otherwise formally dressed crowd, explained to the Congressional committee that she wanted to be in a commercial. When asked what she was advertising, she stood and pointed to the chest of her tank top, on which the GoDaddy.com name was printed, and as she began to inform the panelists about the company’s identity, a strap on her top snapped, threatening to reveal her breasts and triggering a flurry of camera flashes and gasps from onlookers. Asked what she would do in the commercial, Cappelli stood and performed a dance with her arms in the air, again triggering shocked gasps and camera flashes. A Congressional panelist then said, ‘‘Surely by now you must realize that you’re upsetting the committee.’’ Cappelli earnestly replied, ‘‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset the committee,’’ as an elderly committee member was shown putting an oxygen mask to his face. A black screen featuring the message ‘‘See more coverage at GoDaddy.com’’ then appeared—a reference to an uncensored and more sexually suggestive version of the ‘‘hearings’’ that was available for viewing on the website—and the commercial closed with the voice of a female committee member saying, ‘‘May I suggest a turtleneck?’’ The commercial never made its second appearance on the Super Bowl. After airing it in its assigned firstquarter spot, Fox decided not to run it in the fourth quarter, reportedly because of complaints made by a high-level National Football League executive.
During the Super Bowl traffic to GoDaddy.com spiked by 378 percent, and a survey conducted one and then two days after the Super Bowl found that the Go Daddy commercial was the most memorable of all spots that ran during the game. It was the story of Fox’s decision not to air the commercial a second time, however, that proved most useful to the company. The censorship of a commercial that itself poked fun at overzealous censorship proved irresistible to the media, especially in the context of the ongoing commentary about standards of broadcast decency. As word of this incident spread, Go Daddy became by far the most talked-about Super Bowl advertiser. The buzz surrounding the brand in the game’s aftermath—measured as ‘‘share of voice,’’ the percentage of times that Go Daddy was mentioned in stories about the Super Bowl that ran on national, cable, and the top 50 local TV networks—was calculated at 51.4 percent between February 7 and 11, 2005. Go Daddy received nearly $12 million in free publicity, and many of the TV stories about the incident replayed portions of the commercial. Bob Parsons said in a press release, ‘‘Go Daddy accomplished exactly what it set out to achieve with its first-ever Super Bowl ad—increased brand awareness. Today, millions of people now know about GoDaddy.com, which in turn has generated significant new business.’’ The magazine Business 2.0 declared the Go Daddy Super Bowl effort the ‘‘Smartest Ad Campaign’’ of 2005.
Though Go Daddy allowed its contract with the Ad Store to expire soon after the 2005 Super Bowl, moving its creative duties in-house, the company’s subsequent advertising conformed closely to the model established by the Super Bowl commercial. The actress who played Nikki Cappelli, Candice Michelle, continued to appear in Go Daddy spots that drew overt attention to her sexual appeal, and she became known as the ‘‘Go Daddy Girl.’’ In 2006 she appeared in a Go Daddy spot that ran during the NFL Playoffs, and Go Daddy again struggled to get a spot approved for the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl XL commercial, which rehashed material from the previous year’s spot, again ran in an extended form on the company website, as did alternate versions of other Go Daddy commercials. Website visitors could read a detailed history of Go Daddy’s attempt to gain approval for its 2006 Super Bowl entry and could also view numerous spots that had been denied, suggesting that the company’s battles against censorship had become increasingly self-conscious and premeditated. Go Daddy continued to grow rapidly.