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GoDaddy leaving its sexy image behind

By Stuart Elliott
New York Times

Two years after GoDaddy began moving away from sexually provocative advertising that sharply divided consumers, the company is seeking to help accelerate the shift with a change in creative agencies.

Executives of GoDaddy, the Internet services company, are to announce Wednesday that they have hired the New York firm Barton F. Graf 9000 as their U.S. advertising agency of record. The company had been working since June 2012 with Deutsch New York on efforts to leave behind a brand image that was centered on suggestive Super Bowl commercials replete with double entendres and featuring scantily clad women known as GoDaddy Girls.

The desire to alter brand perceptions was prompted by factors that included changes in ownership and the executive ranks at GoDaddy, a growing backlash to the sexy ads and a realization that more women were becoming part of the company’s target audience of small-business owners. That led to at least four rounds of work from Deutsch New York that tried to cultivate a more grown-up, professional persona for GoDaddy, which handles online tasks such as Web hosting, registering domain names and designing websites.

Among those makeover efforts were commercials that adopted a theme of “Smart meets sexy,” which included a Super Bowl spot in 2013 centered on a kiss between a nerd and a supermodel; commercials with Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was meant to embody a new brand personality of enabling entrepreneurs to meet whatever challenges they face; and commercials during the most recent Super Bowl in February that featured a woman who owns a small business and a woman who wanted to own one.

“Deutsch did a great job for us,” said Barb Rechterman, chief marketing officer of GoDaddy in Scottsdale, Ariz. “They really have done a ton of work.”

However, she added, “as we started looking post-Super Bowl at ways to evolve the brand,” the company felt it should begin a review. That process started with several agencies – not including Deutsch New York – and ended with the selection of Barton F. Graf 9000.

“The agency is so much like our customer, starting from scratch, bootstrapping it,” Rechterman said of Barton F. Graf 9000, and as a result, it “understands this customer much better.”

Gerry Graf, who opened his agency in 2010, described himself as a satisfied GoDaddy customer.

Although “there are some negative parts” of the GoDaddy image, Graf acknowledged, “when you look at what GoDaddy actually does, it helps millions of people. I know. I was a one-person business three years ago, and I used GoDaddy.” (The agency now has 30 to 35 employees.)

Graf and Rechterman said it was too soon to discuss in detail the creative tack that new ads would take. Even so, Rechterman said emphatically that GoDaddy would not be “going back to the former” approach.

“We are for the entrepreneur, we are for women, we are for women entrepreneurs,” she said. “We don’t need to be risqué to do this.”

At the same time, Rechterman said, GoDaddy would not be embracing a creative tone of “warm, fuzzy, Hallmark-card moments” that she described as pervasive in advertising aimed at small businesses.

The new ads will aim to tell entrepreneurs in a humorous, confident way something along the lines of “we’ve got this, we’ve got them and got their back,” she added, “and with GoDaddy they can simply pick up the phone and call us.”

As for the previous GoDaddy penchant for stirring controversy, Graf said, “there’s enough drama” in running a small business that when creating ads, “you don’t have to make that much up.”

GoDaddy spent $22.9 million last year on advertising in major media, according to the Kantar Media division of WPP, compared with $34.6 million in 2012, $35.2 million in 2011, $31.4 million in 2010 and $22.3 million in 2009. The company has not decided whether it will buy commercial time during the next Super Bowl, Rechterman said.

Variety.com has reported that NBC, which will broadcast Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015, wants as much as $4.5 million for 30 seconds of commercial time during the game, compared with an estimated $4 million that Fox Broadcasting asked for each 30-second spot during Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014.

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