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GoDaddy’s New Super Bowl Ad Includes a Hidden Shoutout to Women in Tech

Feb 01, 2017

GoDaddy just premiered a splashy new Super Bowl ad—and it doesn't include a single bikini.

The spot, which debuted Tuesday on CBS Greatest Super Bowl Commercials Ever, will also air during the big game on Sunday. It centers around "the internet," a character played by a scruffily-bearded and heavily-tattooed young white man. The spot is overflowing with in-jokes about online memes and references; the internet showers by dumping a bucket of ice over his head (a la the ALS ice bucket challenge), dries off with towels sporting the monogram "IRL", and throws open his closet to reveal a pair of identical dresses—one in black and blue, one in white and gold.

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Among the many references packed into the 30-second spot is a nod to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), the world's largest gathering of female technologists. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it allusion to the conference comes in the form of a #GHC17 button attached to the internet's backpack.

Screen shot from GoDaddy's 2017 Super Bowl adScreen shot from GoDaddy's 2017 Super Bowl ad Courtesy of GoDaddy 

While that's a pretty subtle plug, GoDaddy says the button and other internet culture shoutouts are intended to zoom by. They're designed as "easter eggs"—or semi-hidden references that will encourage viewers to watch the spot again and again to spot as many as possible.

"Having that variety of iconic imagery and internet memes is important. We want viewers of all ages, whether they're male or female, to have something they can relate to," says GoDaddy CMO Barb Rechterman. "Obviously, our goal is repeat viewing."

GoDaddy sponsors students to attend GHC and has recruited and hired a number of conference attendees, says Rechterman. "We've been partnering with them to have this public conversation about how important women in technology is to us," she says.

Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, the nonprofit that produces the conference, says she's pleased to see GHC included in the add, and knows it was a priority for GoDaddy, "because the CEO, Blake Irving, called me and said it was important to them." The GHC nod contrasts "the history of Super Bowl ads that were not very welcoming to women, so to speak," she adds.

Indeed, GoDaddy was one of the worst offenders in the past. In 2013, the company revealed a Super Bowl ad in which model Bar Rafaeli represented the "sexy side" of GoDaddy, while a nerdy guy portrayed the smart side of the business. A year earlier, the company's spot featured race car driver Danica Patrick and fitness guru Jillian Michaels painting domain names onto a woman's naked body. Other ads leaned heavily on an assortment of women in bikinis, hot pants, and extremely tight-fitting GoDaddy-branded tank tops.

Irving, who became CEO at the end of 2012, has made a concerted effort to overhaul the company's image, attempting to keep the "edge," while losing the sexism that drove its earlier advertising campaigns. Last year, Irving told Fortune that one of his first priorities upon taking the top job was to launch a series of ads that portrayed women not "as an object" but as "somebody who represents a vast population of Americans."

"They're powerful businesspeople that work their tails off to be successful," Irving said on Fortune's Unfiltered podcast. "It's just the way that they should be portrayed."

Whitney says Irving's involvement with the Grace Hopper conference has also helped change the way people think about GoDaddy. "Blake got up [in front of the GHC crowd] in 2015 and he was very honest about the pay study they did," she says. "Many women walked into that room remembering the crazy Super Bowl ads and walked out impressed."

The latest GoDaddy ad shows "distinct change and a pointed effort to be inclusive," says Whitney. "They're a good example of how any company can create positive change."

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