Breaking news: sex sells

danicalogosA few years ago, a “wardrobe malfunction” grabbed the country’s attention during the nation’s annual celebration of consumerism and marketing (and in-between, there were some violent expressions of athleticism). Amongst this year’s Super Bowl commercials, marketers for a certain Internet domain registrar and Web hosting company grabbed its fair share of attention by producing an ad that was deemed “the most watched commercial among TiVo users.”

For those of you who missed the game or the commercial, here is a brief description:

The GoDaddy.com ad — a parody of a congressional hearing — depicts women in tight, low-cut tops insisting that they weren’t “enhanced.” Patrick admits to having “enhanced” her image with a Web site from GoDaddy.com, which sells Internet domain names.

The obvious irony of this ad is that Patrick has herself enhanced her image and her marketing star power due to the fact that she is an attractive female race car driver. There are at least a half-dozen of IndyCar drivers that are as accomplished as her and a handful that are significantly more talented. But Patrick is easily the IndyCar Series’ most valuable driver from a marketing perspective and one of the most popular.

While the ad may have been re-watched the most, Wired reported Tuesday that Christians may be bailing on the company “due to ‘Immoral’ Advertising.”

Here is some of the evidence along with Wired‘s more complete description of GoDaddy’s two ads:

Entrepreneur Brian Harrell, who manages hosting services for dozens of Christian churches and faith-based organizations and uses GoDaddy to host over 160 domains, says he’s pulled several of his clients off of GoDaddy’s servers after receiving numerous complaints about the company’s racy ads that aired during Sunday’s game.

“I know they’re trying to make sales, but that kind of content is not going to fly in the Christian community,” he says.

During Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast, the domain registrar and hosting company ran two sexually suggestive ads featuring auto racer Danica Patrick — one featuring Patrick and a few busty models tossing around double-entendres about their breast size, and another featuring Patrick stripping down and stepping into a shower.

Whether or not the ads hurt or help GoDaddy’s business will be determined over the course of the business cycle. But this is a blog about religion and the media’s coverage of it. As a subset of religion, what are the issues of the morality behind these ads in particular and America’s culture of sex-driven marketing in general?

In the auto racing context, all drivers strive to sell sponsorships using whatever, um, assets they have. For the vast majority of the drivers, who are male, this means selling sponsorships that may or may not draw attention. For Patrick, her status as one of the few female drivers (and one of the better overall drivers at that), helps her stand out. She tends to draw the most attention, which of course, is the very purpose of advertising.

The fact that GoDaddy has picked up on this should not surprise anyone, and I think it’s fair to say that their advertisements are simply an issue of the degree to which they use Patrick to grab attention. GoDaddy’s advertisements just seem to cross an invisible line that results in a moral outrage. See here the analysis from Wired:

In addition to working with churches and faith-based organizations, Harrell runs a sales portal for the wedding and event planning industry at alltimefavorites.com. He has been a GoDaddy customer for almost ten years, so he’s more than familiar with the company’s sexually charged ads. But after seeing Danica Patrick showering and nearly showing off her bare breasts, he decided to put his foot down.

When Harrell contacted us our first thought was, Christians are using GoDaddy.com for hosting? Haven’t they seen the ads?

Harrell, who is a Christian himself, says he’s no stranger to the ads or to the suggestive nature of advertising in general. But the ads are costing him business, and he feels it’s time the company owns up to what he calls its “immoral and irresponsible” public image.

Sex will always sell. This post, I predict, will receive a lot of comments and page views because it is about sex. Patrick will continue to make a lot of money selling products and continue to be one of the most popular racers of this era. GoDaddy may lose a few customers in the process of accomplishing their goal of attracting a lot of attention, but at some point journalists will recognize that the battle for maintaining any sense of morality in the public square is over. Sex sells in this culture, and that is beginning to seem to be all that matters for those attempting to market a product.

Perhaps the only question that remains is whether the GoDaddy commercials were amusing or simply tacky.

To get a closer perspective on Patrick and her non-marketing driven personality, see here a section of a 2006 Indianapolis Star article by Curt Cavin (no longer on the Internets unfortunately) on her marriage and how it changed her life:

Patrick remembers sitting by herself in a Starbucks in Long Beach, Calif., on the weekend of her first Toyota Atlantics race in 2004.

She looked across the street at a theater that was showing “Passion of the Christ,” a movie that intrigued her. She took the opportunity to see it and left with questions. At the hotel she called [Paul] Hospenthal, whom she had been dating for 18 months. He surprised her with information.

He was Catholic.

“I was nothing, really, but I always had this sort of faith in the bottom of my heart that I didn’t know where it came from,” she said. “I had never (gone) to church; we were always racing on Sundays. I just became intrigued.

“I started asking him questions. We talked a lot about it.”

Patrick formally professed her faith in 2005, another of last year’s life-changing moments. The Indy 500, Catholicism and a wedding.

“It helps me justify situations, that there’s a reason for everything,” she said of her religion. “It makes me feel better in times when I might have been disappointed or angry, like, why me?”

I think this look-back article is a good reminder that there is a real human behind these mini-controversies regardless of what one thinks of the advertisement’s offensiveness.

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  • Joel

    The ad that was TiVo’d was the less racy of the two GoDaddy ads on Sunday. The “Shower” commercial was the more blatant example of sexploitation.

    http://blog.openitstrategies.com/2009/01/sex-sells-commodity-it.html

  • MikeL

    This post reminded me of a post on Dawn Eden’s blog after the 2006 Super Bowl, which I found again here: http://www.dawneden.com/2006/02/not-godaddys-girl.html

  • Dave

    Thanks for the description of the “enhancement” ad. I almost fell off my chair. Racy content aside, it’s a perfect comment on the endless bloviation about athletic enhancement.

  • John McCoy

    It’s worth noting that Bob Parsons (who owns GoDaddy.com) had a prior life selling accounting software and Bible search software. Here’s a little bit of coverage that came up quickly from Google:
    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=42772

    I seem to remember reading a long essay online a couple of years ago by the guy who actually wrote the Bible search software about how he started his company, got bought out by Bob (who already had the accounting software business), etc. Per that essay, one of Parsons’ desires in buying the Bible search software company was to open up the church market for his accounting software.

    Anyway, there’s some more back-story here with Bob Parsons and Christians. They’ve been buying from his companies for a long time.

    -John


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