For years, one thing you could count on at the Super Bowl was sexed-up ads from Web-building and domain-hosting site GoDaddy. When the first ads debuted in 2005, they were a brave, if distasteful, gamble by the company’s founder and then-CEO, Bob Parsons. The sleazy marketing put the company on the map.
A decade later, GoDaddy has a new CEO, Blake Irving, with a more businesslike and inclusive mandate. He has made a concerted and well-documented effort to change the culture within the company and without, inspired by a promise he made his sister before she died.
But it’s unclear whether the campaign has shifted public perception. In an interview, GoDaddy Chief Marketing Officer Phil Bienert spoke about the change in focus and why big, splashy ads are out of fashion.
Re/code: When Blake came in, did he clean house in order to bring in strong female leadership?
Phil Bienert: Oh, GoDaddy has always had women in leadership roles. Barb Rechterman has been the executive vice president since day one. Nima Kelly has been our general counsel from day one. The company has always had women in leadership roles, but obviously you would not be able to tell that from the past advertising. What Blake did was continue that progress and bring female leadership into product and technology roles.
And a lot of that, frankly, was a function of the fact that he had worked with the talent and could bring them along. Elissa Murphy, our CTO, had worked with him twice before. A more recent hire, Lauren Antonoff, one of our product leaders, worked with him at Microsoft. We, as a company, have had women in high-profile roles; the move was to bring more women into technology roles.
And the advertising shift — did he drive that, too?
The advertising shift is not new. When Blake came into the company, he made the decision to create advertising that isn’t just successful at driving results, but also reflective of the company you see when you walk our hallways, and also reflective of the people who are our customers.
We serve small and mid-sized businesses, mom-and-pop businesses. Fifty-eight percent of them are female-owned. It was really just a logical decision to shift our marketing to better reflect the market we are serving.
So for the first time in 12 years, you’re not running a Super Bowl ad at all — not a sexy one, not one with puppies, no ad at all. That wasn’t driven by criticism?
No, our decision not to run an ad this year had zero to do with any of the ads we might have run in the past. Everything you see us doing now, including our decision to pass on paying $5 million, plus additional millions to have it made, for a Super Bowl ad spot is a reflection of the work we’ve been doing for the past two years.
We serve small businesses all around the world; by having these customers, we have a lot of data about small and mid-sized businesses — since we are the only company focusing on that market. So we have 14 million customers that we have figured out how to connect with, and we have brilliant people like Elissa Murphy who have built marketing opportunities out of that data. So we don’t need to do the Super Bowl.
We have 80 percent brand awareness. We don’t need that megaphone. Instead, we have technology in action so that we can have a direct dialogue with the small business audience that we are targeting. We’re still advertising — just not with a 30 second spot at a football game.
So, bottom line: No more Danica Patrick.
Think of the ad we ran in 2014. One of our customers, Gwen, quit her job live, on air. She’s very successful, she has employees, she’s on the speaking circuit. Talking about our customers, and to our customers, is the big change. This has been happening for years. But we’re not advertising on the Super Bowl — so people are finally noticing it now.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.