Super Bowl ads are pretty much the creme de la creme when it comes to TV commercials, generating an unreal amount of buzz and commanding insane rates -- over $5 million a pop this year for the top spots.
How else can you reach a captive and engaged audience of over 100 million people, 78% of whom are actually looking forward to the commercials?
It's unheard of outside of the Super Bowl.
And yet this year, on Super Bowl's 50th anniversary, GoDaddy decided to opt out altogether. It was the first time in twelve years the web company didn't dominate Super Bowl halftime on American TVs. In fact, they didn't show up at all.
GoDaddy's Super Bowl commercials were often racy and controversial, and talked about for days after. Last year, they ended up removing this commercial from the web within days of its publication, after public outcry:
It turns out people were less than impressed with the message underlying their attempt at a light hearted Budweiser spoof. "We underestimated the emotional response," CEO Blake Irving said at the time. "And we heard that loud and clear."
And yet even when they got some flack, GoDaddy ads were an integral part of the Super Bowl commercials experience.
So what changed?
For starters, Irving joined GoDaddy in 2012 and to say his style is different from that of founder and former CEO Bob Parsons would be an understatement. Much of Irving's focus has been on reshaping the company's image; on helping the brand "grow up," mature, and better serve a business audience of small business owners, many of whom are women.
It's more than a professional pursuit for Irving, who told Fast Company in 2015, "My youngest sister was a psychologist and a researcher who specialized in eating disorders... one of these was the effect of the media on women's bodies and self-esteem... my sister ended up passing away tragically about 12 years ago and my promise to her was that I would pursue as much as I could in my own field to level the playing field for women so that they're not at a disadvantage and actually have every benefit that men have because she was such a strong advocate."
GoDaddy's departure from sexy (some would say sleazy), boundary pushing ads has been a long road, and taking a pass on Super Bowl this year is the natural next step in their more family-friend, gender neutral ad strategy. Chief Marketing Officer Phil Bienert told Re/code this week that the shift isn't new, but did begin with Blake Irving who, he said, made the decision to create advertising that's more reflective of their employees and customer base.
Bienert explained, "...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... 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."
For $5 million and whatever they were paying their super hot models, GoDaddy can buy an awful lot of more targeted, interactive and compelling ads to get them in front of their core demographic: small business owners.
Unless they can figure out a way to tug on the heartstrings in as effective a manner as Budweiser, don't expect to see GoDaddy at halftime next year, either.