GoDaddy Case Study: Is all publicity really good publicity?

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On a recent visit to Zimbabwa, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons decide to make a splash in the ocean of social media by filming his experiences of shooting an elephant that was later eaten by the locals. (See video here.) Needless to say, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was FURIOUS and quickly closed their account with GoDaddy. TMZ.com posted the letter PETA sent to the CEO here. In typical irrational fashion, PETA presented Parsons with the “first-ever Scummiest CEO of the Year Award”. The CEO, however, says he stands by his decision to help African villagers hunt down the problem elephants. In another video which hasn’t gained as much publicity, Parsons details the process of harvesting meat from the elephants who were ruining the villagers crops and could not be controlled by the usual non-violent means.

While there are definitely many issues involved here (animal rights, environmental conservation, world hunger, etc.), I think that the implications for Advertising, PR, Journalism or Social Media professionals is are definitely more centered around the high-level of publicity that the company has gained from the CEO’s actions. One person compared the two companies based on their similarities (read more here):

While PETA and Parsons might not agree when it comes to the ethics of the safari, at least they can continue to share a belief in the efficacy of scantily-clad women in advertising. (Compare this 2006 GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial and PETA’s ad from 2009 – GoDaddy’s was censored, PETA’s was banned outright from airing.)

PETA has mounted a strong campaign against GoDaddy, one of the leading domain hosting sites, and strongly urge their followers to follow in their footsteps. They are using their website to encourage people to send letters demanding that the CEO give up his elephant-killing ways. The letter is editable, but by default it reads like this:

I’m appalled that you would kill sensitive, intelligent animals for personal enjoyment. Elephants are capable of experiencing emotions, including joy, anger, grief, and sympathy. They play with each other and can reason and use tools; they have exceptional memories and form enduring bonds with other elephants. Killing elephants is unnecessary because there are ample effective and nonlethal methods to deter elephants from crops, including using chili-infused string and beehives on poles to create low-cost “fences.” I  won’t buy from Go Daddy until you stop killing animals for fun.

A serious case of anthropomorphism is obviously visible here, but based on past history there will probably be millions who go along with the campaign. GoDaddy competitor, NameCheap.com has also jumped into the controversy and hopes to benefit by offering a $4.99 domain transfer special and giving $1 per transfer to SaveTheElephants.com.

GoDaddy, however, has no intention of letting their lead in the market go out with a bang. The CEO has no qualms about fighting the PETA organization in word-for-word combat. Parsons has made statements to the effect that his actions were intended for the greater good of the community.

Also, GoDaddy seems to be taking extra measures to ensure customer satisfaction during this delicate time. Unaware of the whole elephant crisis, I purchased a domain from GoDaddy earlier this week for my website.  Today, I was surprised to receive a phone call from a very nice lady who inquired about my satisfaction with my purchase and offered very graciously to assist me with any issues or problems I might be having. She also offered to help me set-up a website if I needed assistance. I assured her all was well with my purchase, and she hung up after letting me know they were always available if I had questions or needed technical assistance.  After speaking to the representative, I almost immediately received the email posted below. I could not help but wonder whether I would have received such stellar service prior to the CEOs African adventures. I almost asked the girl if the call was protocol or something newly put into action, but then I decided it might be rude to mention the elephant fiasco to hear (especially since our call was being recorded for quality assurance purposes).

I’m curious to see what will come of this conflict over the next week or so, and look forward to learning what other organizations will say and if they will choose to weigh in on the issue.

In the meantime, if you are like me and worry about the starving children of Zimbabwe, you can donate to Feed The Children and help them out. As I always say, “every little bit helps”!

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