GoDaddy, the web hosting company that has previously come under fire for running risqué advertisements, is betting that cats will help to improve its corporate image.

On Monday, the company launched its latest ad campaign, which includes a TV segment called "Cats with Hats." The ad follows a woman who is inspired to launch a business selling hats for cats; she retails them through GatoChapeau.com. This website, generated through GoDaddy, allows the woman to reach her target demographic, thus proving that the idea isn't so crazy after all.

"Now these things are fe-lining out of here," she quips.

The storyline is intended to reflect the grit required to launch a startup, and even suggests that real-world experience is far more valuable to entrepreneurs than an academic degree. When asked if her time spent at the University of Barcelona, or the Sorbonne in Paris, helped in launching the business, the entrepreneur says "no."

"It takes moxie to start a business," said Phil Bienert, GoDaddy's CMO, in a statement. "The people who take this leap and launch their idea have to believe in themselves even when their family and friends call them crazy. Our new campaign is inspired by that 'against all odds faith.'"

This marks the company's first foray into cat-themed marketing. While GoDaddy is using humor to attract customers in the North American markets, a company spokeswoman notes that it will be advertising in a more "straightforward" manner across global markets.

GoDaddy has weathered reputational issues in the past, with its series of ads that featured auto racing driver Danica Patrick in varying states of undress, and others that included strip teases and body paint. The concepts prompted a slew of female business owners to pressure e-commerce marketplace Etsy to cease doing business with the company in 2013. 

"I still get choked up when I think about it," said GoDaddy's CEO Blake Irving, referring to his efforts to produce a corporate shift, in an interview with Inc. last year.

GoDaddy went public 2015, with shares priced at $20 for a total valuation of $4.5 billion, and brought in more than $1.6 billion in full year revenue. The company now serves more than 14 million paying customers, the majority of whom are small business owners with five or fewer employees. It expanded into 11 Asian markets just last month, and accounts for roughly half of all new registered domain names, up from 16 percent in 2005. 

"While people's behavior have changed [online], the things they like and like to share have stayed the same," noted Summer Anne Burton, an executive creative producer at BuzzFeed, the popular web publication, at a panel during Social Media Week in New York City in February. Top performing topics online, according to data collected by the company's analysts, include animals, celebrities, and "nostalgia," (i.e., throwbacks to '90s sitcoms).

If e-history is any indication, the focus on cats is likely to be a popular and lucrative one. 

Here's a look at some of the best cat-themed ad campaigns that have been successful:

1. Cravendale, "Cats with Thumbs"

Originally released in February 2011, this ad has generated more than 8 million views on YouTube to date. It features cats that develop opposable thumbs, and can thus can be seen undertaking human projects, such as filing their nails, reading books, and scheming to steal milk. 

The ad was produced by Wieden + Kennedy on behalf of Cravendale, the U.K.'s largest milk brand. The company later developed a spinoff commercial, called "Catnapping," which aired in 2012. It also created a fictional Twitter account for the ad's protagonist, Bertrand Thumbcat, who posted ahead of the second launch: "World domination is mainly a question of attitude. First we sleep on your laundry…Then take over your governments and steal all your milk." 

2. EDS, "Cat Herders"

Electronic Data Systems, the Plano, Tex.-based IT company acquired by HP in 2009, came to web fame in 2000, when it ran a 60-second parody of a Western film in which cowboys herd cats. The idea, as the tagline explains, is to reflect the "complexities of e-business." 

3. Mercedes Benz, "Cat"

In 2014, the car company came out with a simple, 30-second advert to promote its then-new CLA offering, featuring a cat that slides over the car, as evidence of its "aerodynamic qualities." 

4. Ikea, "Happy Inside"

The Swedish furniture retailer turned 100 cats loose in a showroom to film its "Happy Inside" commercial, produced by Mother, a London-based ad firm.

"The idea behind the work is that cats know better than anything what makes them feel happy inside, they live their lives in pursuit of their own comfort," said Mother's creative director, Feh Tarty, in an interview with The Guardian.

The ad itself--which feels something like a scene from an Ingmar Bergman film--has generated nearly 5 million views on YouTube, while a subsequent "making of" trailer has similarly generated more than 4.7 million views on the platform.

5. O2, "Be More Dog"  

The British telecommunications firm produced a cat-themed commercial in 2013, with the goal of getting customers to adopt new technology such as 4G, using the tagline "be more dog."

Developed by ad agency VCCP, the "be more dog" commercial features an apathetic cat that suddenly decides to behave more as a dog would, chasing frisbees, cars, and sticks, for example.

The idea: "To spread positivity, excitement, and inquisitiveness… to rid the UK of cynicism," according to the company.

6. Three, "Sing It Kitty"

A competing mobile carrier, Three, subsequently released its own hit cat campaign, which features a young girl and her pet cycling through a residential neighborhood, as the girl mouths the lyrics to Starship's "We Built This City." The commercial, released in 2014, was produced by Weiden + Kennedy.

Three and O2, it's worth noting, are set to merge this year, though the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority is reportedly urging the EU to block the deal, insisting that it would cause "long-term damage" to consumers by leaving only three mobile networks in the nation, thus potentially creating higher prices. 

Published on: Apr 11, 2016