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The Whiteboard: GoDaddy abandons babes for slightly more serious spin

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Let's get it out of the way — you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

OK, got it.

But GoDaddy has used its tongue-in-cheek, self-aware, a-little-bit-naughty marketing approach to generate a bazillion impressions using boobs and behinds as a principal part of its content. And whether you're grinning or yawning or getting a bad taste in your mouth thinking about it, the GoDaddy brand has been working and helping to grow the company. In 2011, two private-equity firms bought 65 percent of the company, reportedly for $2.25 billion.

Now it appears it wants to turn in the tube tops for a sensible blouse.

The somewhat notorious brand that provides domain name registration and website-hosting services announced a new ad campaign early this month that begins to distance it from years of T&A marketing and take it toward a new image of providing critical help for small businesses of all types.

New TV spots use Jean-Claude Van Damme as a spokesman. The spots still retain an irreverent sense of humor, but they are a deliberate attempt to mix in a dose of business smarts.

"Whatever we've lost in 'sexy' we hope we've gained in smart and substantial," Greg DiNoto, chief creative officer at Deutsch New York, the ad agency that created the new campaign, said in a recent New York Times article.

You may recall a GoDaddy Super Bowl spot this year where a very glamorous Israeli supermodel planted a big, extended kiss on a very nerdy looking GoDaddy "technician." This spot was part of the same evolution that GoDaddy is attempting to accomplish, where it transitions from racy to more business-like.

It would seem that, somewhere along the line, GoDaddy has come to a realization or two. One could be that there are a large number of women (and some men) who are offended by the content of its advertising to date. Could the other one be that women are a pretty big demographic and many of them are small-business owners? Hey, wait a minute!

So the new GoDaddy campaign introduces a more business-driven message and uses the slogan, "It's go time. GoDaddy." Sort of a "Just do it" for Web hosting.

But if history is an indication, GoDaddy will have a long way to go to escape its original brand image. It's not like it's been muddling along as a niche product with barely any brand awareness.

Years ago, there was a failing cigarette brand aimed at women and using the slogan "Mild as May." The brand decided to target men instead and eventually focused on the American cowboy as the core of its brand concept. The Marlboro Man became one of the most successful campaigns of all time, but it rose from the safety of obscurity. GoDaddy has been splashing its borrowed interest brand all over major sports and other media to the tune of $20 million to $40 million per year for the last decade.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that GoDaddy could have won an award in the highest-brand-recognition-without-knowing-what-the-heck-they're-selling category.

The one saving grace of the original GoDaddy brand concept could be the self-awareness I mentioned earlier. There has always been a wink and a nudge associated with its over-the-top approach to getting attention for help with your URL. It's the same ironic approach that Old Spice has successfully created with the shirtless "Man Your Man Could Smell Like," played with straight-faced delight by ex-NFL player Isaiah Mustafa.

Both campaigns have an amusing "We know you know what we're doing here" quality to them. To a large extent, they effectively mock the sex-sells genre while benefiting from it at the same time.

Which is very clever. But GoDaddy will soon see if it is also very sticky. Brands strive to gain a unique foothold in the brains of their prospects and customers. Because we're keeping 99 percent of our brand impressions in our heads, there isn't a lot of room in there for detailed perceptions.

Until now, GoDaddy has carved out a spot in many people's minds as irreverent, funny and sexy, but it has left the real benefit to be discovered later. As Mr. DiNoto noted above, GoDaddy can hope to replace sexy with substantial, but it has a long way to go to help us forget a decade of trading on a different kind of attention.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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