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.
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.