“In some respects, it seems like I’m one of the few guys in the world who understands that ads are meant to sell stuff.”
Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of Go Daddy.
I make it a habit to defend Go Daddy on principle because of that quote, above. I don’t need to, in all honesty, because the world’s top domain registry doesn’t need my help. But that’s not why I do it. I defend Go Daddy and its advertising as a public service. I believe that if there’s one impressionable marketer left in the world who hasn’t been brainwashed into thinking that ads are about artistic merit and I can remind them what they’re supposed to be doing for a living, all this work will have been worth it. It’s lonely at times, but it’s important work.
I spoke to Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of Go Daddy, last week on a wide range of topics, from his company’s instrumental role in getting child protection and rogue pharmacy legislation passed on Capitol Hill to his walking away from China to his $500,000 donation to Hope for Haiti. But you don’t have a chat with Bob and not talk advertising, because regardless of whether you love his ads or hate them, they work better than yours do.
“I would rather they hate my ad than love it,” Bob told me. “It’s when they’re upset with an ad, and they graphically describe or exaggerate why… it draws so much attention to it. If they say so-and-so did an ad and it was really nice and I like it, nobody gives a shit about that. If they say Go Daddy has lesbian overtones, what’s the first thing they’re going to do after they read that review? They’re going to my website. And I’m going to say, thank you very much.”
Bob related two stories in our talk that I wanted to share with you. One is about getting the biggest bang for the controversy buck, and he uses fellow one-time Super Bowl advertiser Sales Genie as his cautionary tale.
“Everybody got all over this Sales Genie guy in his Super Bowl ad. What the Sales Genie guy did is pull his ads. He shut it down completely, he didn’t even let them see it on his website. He made about as big a mistake as he could make. The thing to do is go head to head with these people and defend it. You win on both sides. The ad was lighthearted, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but you had these pundits say, ‘This is wrong you can’t do this,’ and he was horrified that he did it… well, to me there was a check waiting for him to cash that he ripped up and threw away. His ad did good, but had he handled it right it could have been a homerun.”
The other story will make you laugh. I’ve always wondered about the Legions of the Morally Enraged and what they do after their Old Testament furor has died down and they need a domain name. Now we know.
“Two years ago I had a church group send us an automated message. It was the same one… I got about five hundred of them, where the people would write their name and address on it. I had these all stacked up. Just for kicks, I asked my staff check to see if any of these people were customers. We found that a number of them, after they signed the card and sent it to us, become customers. What I learned was that if I can’t get someone’s attention because they like the ad and find it amusing, I want them because it’s objectionable. Because the key word is attention. When people find out anything about you, and they have an economic decision, they handle the economic decision based on economics. They aren’t going to stop buying from me because I have someone in a tank top in my ad. They may say they do, but they don’t.”
The key takeaway quotes to remember:
“In some respects, it seems like I’m one of the few guys in the world who understands that ads are meant to sell stuff.” Ads are meant to sell stuff. Not win you an Oscar. No one cares about your cinematography unless it helps you sell more stuff.
“The thing to do is go head to head with this people and defend it. You win on both sides.” If you’ve done your homework and you know what you’re doing, you run the very real risk of offending someone. Who cares? Someone, in this day and age of self-publishing, will not only be offended, but will take the time to shake their tiny fists at you. Don’t apologize. And don’t even think of ignoring them. Fight back. Everybody wins.
“… The key word is attention. When people find out anything about you, and they have an economic decision, they handle the economic decision based on economics.” People make decisions based on self-interest, not moral backbone. This is why Go Daddy is as successful as they are and why no one’s ever heard of their harshest critics.
This conversation was a reaffirmation of everything I thought I knew about marketing. Now, I can go back out there and try to save just one more marketer on the edge of the precipice.
Thanks for pointing to Bob Parson’s commonsense insights re:advertising.
But, is it really true that “when people find out anything about you, and they have an economic decision, they handle the economic decision based on economics?”
I suspects we imagine our decisions are based on economics…or reason, but often there’s more to it than mere economics.
Wags: I’ve got a stack of game theory books lined up to read next, so Parsons’s quote rings very true to me. Understand that Parsons is talking about decisions that are primarily economic in nature – price sensitive, perceived commodity sales. Our decision making processes are complex, but in areas where the decision is impersonal (online) and price sensitive, the best value usually wins.
When we’re faced with a decision, we act in our own self-interest. When all things are equal, we choose on the basis of what is different – the price is the same but I like this person better than that person, the first one’s price is better even though I like them both the same, etc. But when you’re working on a purely economic level – registering a domain – you’re going to save money if you can. Bob’s anecdote – while anecdotal, of course – tells a fundamental truth: even those who are “outraged” at his fairly tame tactics often end up customers because his company provides a better value.
Stephen, enjoyed this post. Not sure I agree with the following quote: “People make decisions based on self-interest, not moral backbone.” While self interest is a powerful force (and maybe the most powerful), there are many other considerations that play into a buying decision and moral considerations can certainly be part of the equation The good news for companies that push the envelope is that over time, people end up forgetting why they’re outraged and go back to business as usual.
Paul: it takes a pretty powerful moral objection to overcome self-interest. This usually defines the act as philanthropy or something similar.
Decision making is complex – the science of influence and the whole framework of what we do at Decision Triggers is built on this reality. But self-interest needs to be an acknowledged core of decision making. This doesn’t suggest that everything breaks down to money – our self-interest may be a function of social pressure (reciprocity, for example) or a desire to see our children do well (the core psychological hunger of “survival”). But when we’re dealing with an impersonal (ie, web-based) commodity purchase, money talks.
GoDaddy is a living case study of how powerless half-believed “moral outrage” is in the face of a better customer experience and price. There are limits to this argument, of course; we wouldn’t make the same statement about supporting a genocidal regime or a even a creative execution that deeply offended its audience on the basis of social mores (which Parsons agrees with). But that’s Parsons’s point.
Companies that push the envelope, in my experience and research, either understand the size and shape of the envelope better than the critics do, or flame out in a humiliating fashion. I think we can agree that GoDaddy is the former! Thanks!