Go Daddy and the Scandal of Super Bowl Commercials Reviewed by Momizat on . Inappropriate? Hearing that word, I absolutely knew we were in for a record Super Bowl ad campaign. -Bob Parsons, Founder and Executive Director of Go Daddy Inappropriate? Hearing that word, I absolutely knew we were in for a record Super Bowl ad campaign. -Bob Parsons, Founder and Executive Director of Go Daddy Rating: 0
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Go Daddy and the Scandal of Super Bowl Commercials

Inappropriate? Hearing that word, I absolutely knew we were in for a record Super Bowl ad campaign.

-Bob Parsons, Founder and Executive Director of Go Daddy


Below is that shockingly repulsive and scandalous Go Daddy Super Bowl commercial. Whatever you do, don’t watch it!

Do you see what I just did there? I put you in a double bind. (I’m terribly sorry! But there’s a point.) I told you about something, and I gave you easy access to doing it, but then I told you not to do it. Who can resist, especially when it’s described as “shockingly repulsive and scandalous”? I’ve prohibited you from doing something and the prohibition peaked your curiosity. You might think, “Well, how repulsive is it?” Then you might go all teenager on me and think, “You can’t tell me what not to do!” And then you might hit that play icon in the middle of the screen.

Don’t do it. Just trust me on this. It’s that repulsive.

But you begin to see the problem of prohibitions and double binds. We humans have an uncanny ability to put one another in these situations. The anthropologist René Girard claims that this dilemma of the prohibitions and double bind exists in every human culture. It looks something like this: Someone, whom Girard calls a model, is admired and wants to keep the admiration coming. But admiration easily leads to envy. We can admire what someone has, and at the same time want it for ourselves. The prohibition and double bind is a message the model gives to members of the community, “Admire me. Want to be like me. Imitate me, but don’t imitate me too much! Don’t cross the line and become my rival!”

Strangely, when our model prohibits us from the object, it only increases our desire for it. The “no” tells us that the object is important. For example, when a really mean and devious person refers to a shockingly repulsive and scandalous video and says “Whatever you do, don’t watch it!” it makes you want to watch it. (Again, I’m terribly sorry!) Another example: When parents tell their children to stop swearing, the child wants to swear even more, because the prohibition means swearing must be cool. (Not that I would know from parenting 3 angelic children or anything…) The point is that the line of prohibitions will always be crossed, turning admirers into rival competitors with their model, thus creating scandals.

What do prohibitions, double binds, and scandals have to do with a repulsive Super Bowl commercial? Creators of Super Bowl commercials are put into a colossal double bind. The competition on the football field of Super Bowl Sunday pales in comparison to the competition between advertisers, who can spend as much as $4 million for Super Bowl air time. For many, the climax of the American cultural ritual that is Super Bowl week is the anticipation of watching that $4 million put to use. We want to know who created the best commercial – and who created the worst. The double bind for advertisers is to imitate their models who created the winning commercials of the past. Ironically, the commercials that “win” on Super Bowl Sunday are often the commercials that cross the line of our cultural prohibitions. They strike us as the most inappropriate, offensive, and scandalous. Those advertisers cross the line of cultural prohibitions because they know we will look. They know that those are the commercials that keep us posting online and discussing at the water cooler on Monday morning.


Image on home page of the Huffington Post on the Monday after the Super Bowl.

I did a brief survey of “news” websites yesterday morning. Go Daddy’s commercial was on the homepage of the Huffington Post, CNN, and ABC News. All three sites criticized the commercial. In this case, bad publicity is very good publicity. Company CEO Blake Irving reported, “We wanted our Super Bowl commercials to generate new customers and overall sales, and that’s precisely what happened. We set the all-time Super Bowl Sunday records for mobile sales, Website Builders, website hosting, and new customers.”  When Bob Parsons, Founder and Executive Chairman of Go Daddy, heard that people were accusing the commercial of being “inappropriate,” he responded, “Inappropriate? Hearing that word, I absolutely knew we were in for a record Super Bowl ad campaign.”

The advertisers for Go Daddy won and they know it. We have no one to blame but ourselves. The Go Daddy commercial is a product of an American culture obsessed with relationships that revolve around prohibitions, double binds, and scandals.

What’s the way out of scandals caused by prohibitions and double binds? I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. Prohibitions have their place. I don’t think we can do without them. But since prohibitions actually increase our desire for something we can’t have, we have all experienced double binds. We have all found ourselves in the midst of scandals. The line will be crossed; scandal will happen. Yes, we need to take responsibility for our actions and hold one another accountable. But the way out of scandal is to not get caught up in scandals. We all have crossed the line and we all have the potential to cross the line again. It’s part of being human. So, when it comes to the scandals of commercials, celebrities, politics, and families, what’s the way out? I think it’s to wean ourselves away from our cultural addiction to scandals. To become “unscandalized” and move forward in the spirit of forgiveness and compassion.


(For an excellent analysis of the Audi prom commercial, see JC Mitchell’s article “Oh Susanna!” over at DMergent.)

Comments (4)

  • Andrew McKenna

    The NYT has several articles on Super Bowl ads, probably because of the sensations/scandal caused by “inappropriate’ undress [a nipple! oye!] of a previous ad not long ago, which probably inspired the advertising firm to reach out for that effect deliberately at this years S.B.. The ad is repulsive, and clearly is meant to be.Scandal sells; pushing the envelope is inevitable (remember C. Klein ads, child porn, etc.). The essential point is made in italics above: “But the way out of scandal is to not get caught up in scandals.” Scandal is addictive; we can expect to see more and more of it in mainstream advertising. Its spread is an important symptom of today’s culture, where everything is about advertising and selling (religion, political candidates, etc., etc.). Forgiveness is all very well, but understanding our media-driven culture’s scandal addiction (a point made by Girard the translation to his book on Dostoevsky) remains very important as well. It’s all about the various forms of ersatz religion that you get in a market driven culture: the taboo/scandal nexus is drawn into the cash nexus.

    • Adam Ericksen

      Thanks for the comment, Andrew! Scandal indeed sells and it is addictive. I think you are right that we will see more of the same. I didn’t see the NYT articles. I’ll look them up.


  • andrew marr

    I did watch the video of the ad (having not watched even one second of the Super-Duper Bowl this year) because I figured that if I commented on this post, I would be commenting on the ad & I would need to know what I was commenting on in order to do it responsibly. I suppose that is a parable in itself. So, I saw the ad & found that an unpleasant experience in the name of commenting responsibly. I have two points.

    1) Mimetic contagion tends to foster huge amounts of obedience, much of it unconscious. But we are usually just sufficiently aware of it to want to rebel so as to feel that we are rugged individualists. An ad so overflowing with mimetic overtones is likely to try to have it both ways and is likely to succeed as this one seems to have done. The Go Daddy executive says that got a huge jump in sales. That means many viewers were obedient to the mimetic contagion the ad was seeking to create: a contagion to buy their services. As Adam noted in analyzing the mimetic effect of prohibitions, they spur many (that is, all of us) to rebellious thoughts. Some people will rebel to the point of getting into serious trouble. The best of both worlds is to rebel in such a way as to not get into trouble but feel one has rebelled. Watching a transgressive ad like this spurs people to thumb their noses at the moral establishment (whatever that really is) by buying the product of the transgressor.

    2) This ad is, of course, a classic example of mimetic modeling through irrelevant imagery which usually is sexual as it is here. An ad for a car that has a beautiful woman in the passenger seat makes some viewers think they will get a hot girlfriend (or keep the one they have or think they have) by buying the car. Years ago, when I looked at a brochure for a power typewriter I was thinking of getting (but ended up not getting) I had to remind myself that the beautiful woman pawing the machine in the picture wouldn’t really come with the typewriter. In this ad, the mimetic thrust is strengthened by the man being a stereotype in several ways (fat, geeky-looking etc) who, according to stereotypical thinking fostered by the media of which this ad is an example) getting a kiss from a hot blonde. If HE can get a kiss like that, ANYBODY who buys Go Daddy can get a kiss like that. Even YOU!!!

    A Coda: I never listened to the Beach Boys much, but they were too ubiquitous when I was young for me to be oblivious of them. I recall a refrain “Go Daddy, Go Daddy, Go Daddy Go.” So the company name seems to make surfing star singers out of all of us.

    • Adam Ericksen

      Andrew! You capture so much in those two points. The mimetic obedience/rebelliousness of the ad (and American culture as a whole) is very insightful. I think I was close, but hadn’t thought of it quite like that. The mimetic modeling point, and your personal story of having to remind yourself that the typewriter wouldn’t come with the beautiful woman in the ad, is a key element to the God Daddy ad. Thanks for bringing that up! For good or ill, it looks like the Beach Boys continue to influence American culture!



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