GoDaddy: Redemption and Branding

Sooooo, as the internet is aware, notoriousmisogyny sells” company Go Daddy was a platinum sponsor of this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Go Daddy has a long history of misogynist ad campaigns and a notorious dismissal of any critiques of said campaigns. It seemed an unlikely partnership, and caught me completely by surprise because I have been under an internet rock for a while now. I found it rather problematic, and I found myself snarling “Freaking Go Daddy?!?” under my breath every time I walked past their booth as we were setting up our own. Then as we set up, there was some talk about “didn’t Go Daddy get bought out? Or the other way around?” and I decided: why not go straight to the source?

So the next time I wandered by the booth, I stopped at the group of four women unpacking shirts. They seemed approachable. (They were utterly lovely and I should have written down their names so I could properly discuss with them—if you read this and you were there, let me know!)
Anna: marches up, spreads hands in confusion “I have an awkward question.”
General laughter. Then:
“Yes.” says one, definitively.
“New management,” clarifies another.

Relief. We talk a while longer about the company, about the new CEO Blake Irving, about how in his initial presentation to employees he promised to change the company’s external presence to reflect the respect he/the company has for women in technology, to show the women who work there the same respect externally they deserve, to let the public face of the company align with internal policies (it was apparently a fine environment for female workers internally, something I’ve heard reiterated a few times). The details escape me, but there are a lot of ongoing initiatives, he brought in Elissa Murphy as CTO who is active in adding to the supportive atmosphere (nice quote by Irving in the linked article: “Elissa Murphy is more than just a top woman in technology, she’s a top person at the top of her field. Elissa just plain rocks.”), it’s been a positive change, etc, etc.

I was satisfied. I understood the relationship now. It wasn’t an empty PR stunt or a sell-out by the Anita Borg Institute. It was ABI supporting a big company wanting to make changes. I assured the women there that I would spread the word (since it had come up a few times, on the Systers mailing list and among our little group).

But over the week, hearing the cycle repeat—“Can you believe Go Daddy is a sponsor?” “I know, but they’ve got new management and it sounds like they’re doing good things.”—over and over and over got me thinking.

It’s very cool and all that the company has internally disavowed past misogyny, and that they are trying to change perception. But that’s not how branding works. When your branding has been thoroughly and completely based in being unrepentantly sexist (I’m sorry, “edgy and a bit inappropriate“), you can’t really just pop up and say “we’re not going to do that going forward, we’re the good guys now.”

Even if you really do change. Even if, from here on out, you did everything exactly right, you are still remembered publicly as Freaking Go Daddy: misogynist, SOPA-supporting, animal-killing.

You want to really grab attention? What about an edgy, fun, irreverent ad campaign that targeted that past version of Go Daddy itself? Comedy gold! The reaction could be immense. There’s the warm fuzzies you’ll create in people who care about improving the atmosphere for women in tech. There’s the plain straightforward message to (the ever-growing market of) women on the internet: we’ve got your back. We respect you. There’s the business buzz that all the “Go Daddy earns Nobel Peace Prize for not being a jerk” and “Why did Go Daddy cave to the feminazi hivemind” articles will prompt. Sure, there’s going to be fallout. The true assholes, the ones who liked you because of your unrepentant sexism, are going to be ticked right off. You may even get some small, concentrated hacking “attacks” by the sewage of the internet.

You want to be edgy and push boundaries? Be overtly feminist in tech.

Imagine the publicity *that* would generate. Imagine the buzz if Go Daddy, freaking GO DADDY, had a biting, funny, *feminist* ad series in the superbowl. Have Gaby Dunn and Avery Edison and Andrew Ti write them. Get Amanda Palmer and Jessica Williams to perform in them. Get Suey Park and Amanda Levitt to vet them. Or let them recommend the writers and actors and vetting. Get a diverse, critical, plugged-in team to create a self-satire like no company has done before. And that will scream so loud that all the gritted teeth and snarling will be replaced with delight: “Can you believe it? GO DADDY!”.

The absolute key to this is: DO NOT ALLOW WHITE MALE MARKETERS AND EXECS TO MAKE THE CALLS. And don’t assume that as long as a white woman signs off on it, it must be okay. No matter how well-intentioned, it’s too hard for the in-group to see its own flaws. Nobody can speak for everyone. And you have to go all in for it to work, or it’s just another half-assed attempt to get marginalized groups to throw gratitude money your way. Without a diverse team behind it, it’s just a mediocre PR stunt. So hire the best and brightest minds and create a masterpiece.

I can’t imagine a company doing this, actually getting a diverse team of critical minds and allowing them free reign to mock the company itself. But what a sight that would be. And then, instead of saying “Oh no, they’re better now, really,” I could just send a link to this YouTube video of the ad campaign, or a Storify of the Twitter fallout and say “This is what they’re about now.”

There’s a pile of great comedians and critics I’m not thinking of, and my sphere is still rather white-washed and heteronormative, so if you can think of other awesome candidates for such a venture, leave a link below!

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