GoDaddy Pulls Super Bowl Ad: #PRFail or Stunt?

Maybe they planned it all along

URL hosting business GoDaddy’s latest Super Bowl ad lasted less than twelve hours. In case you missed it, here it is:

The problem lay in the ad’s central joke:

GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving tried to defend the campaign as backlash built throughout the day (a petition quickly earned more than 40,000 signatures): he claims the dog was “adopted,” but this talking point defeats the purpose of the ad itself:

By 6:30, Irving backed down and announced that GoDaddy would NOT be running the ad that debuted yesterday morning. In a statement, the company wrote:

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress over the past two years, advancing the GoDaddy brand as a company that cares a great deal about small business and is in their corner to help them succeed…We hoped our ad would increase awareness of that cause. However, we underestimated the emotional response. And we heard that loud and clear.”

The twist: GoDaddy will still run an ad during the Super Bowl. It just won’t be that ad.

Color us suspicious.

ICYMI, the company hired a new ad agency last summer in an effort to improve its image; its previous ads always scored headlines for their inherent sexism and an ability to make millions of people go “ewww!” at the same time.

Many observers now wonder whether the company planned this “stunt” all along. GoDaddy never actually paid to air the puppy ad, and how convenient that the agency hired to make the spot just happens to have another one ready to air on Sunday! Variety columnist Brian Steinberg also notes that the final ad will star NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, the longtime GoDaddy spokesperson who also appeared in a Coca-Cola teaser released yesterday. But she was nowhere near the puppy spot.

Full disclosure: as proud owners of a rescued mutt, we can see why most viewers responded to this TODAY query with #YesPull and why some called the move a #PRWin:

But was this really a crisis of conscience, or was it just another well-executed (free) publicity stunt?

UPDATE: GoDaddy now insists to various trade publications that the ad was not a stunt, that the company and its agency are currently working on the replacement, and that they “simply miscalculated the reaction to the spot.

As we say on the Internets: whoa if true.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.