On Tuesday, GoDaddy pulled an ad scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday broadcast after expressing surprise that the spot featuring an online puppy seller sparked such an immediate backlash in social media. The ad is just the latest false note on animal issues from GoDaddy, whose founder and former CEO famously flew halfway around the world to shoot a museum-full of African animals, then had the audacity to claim that he killed the elephant for the benefit of local villagers. It just so happened that the elephant was a large male with enormous tusks – the type of elephant prized as trophies.
The GoDaddy ad appears to be a parody of several touching ads by Budweiser and other companies that have highlighted the power of the human-animal bond and pet adoption, in this case with an adorable puppy finding its way home after a rough ride threw him off the bed of a truck. But the GoDaddy ad turned sour when, upon the dog’s finding his way home, a woman greets him with excitement – but only because he’s been sold and can now be shipped for sale. She’s operating an online puppy-sales business.
This commercial was probably not going to be seen as funny in any case, but certainly not when there are thousands of online puppy mill sellers throughout the country, victimizing hundreds of thousands of dogs. These mills sell to customers sight unseen, with their online marketing showing happy and healthy puppies frolicking in the fields. The HSUS has worked with law enforcement to shut down many of these wholesale sellers, and many are among the worst mills we’ve seen. We’ve also worked for 20 years to bring these sellers under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and finally achieved that in 2013 – although that’s only the first step in addressing the problem.
The fierce reaction to the GoDaddy ad is a sign of the public’s deep connection with animals, and a strong indicator that the public increasingly gets the notion that the online selling of puppies, a key sales strategy of the puppy mill industry, is a threat to animal welfare. It was reported last night that the online petition protesting GoDaddy’s ad, started by Pennsylvania advocate Helena Yurcho on Change.org, was one of the fastest growing petitions in recent memory.
GoDaddy seems to relish shock-value advertising and the whole controversy could have been staged from the start to get attention, as some observers have noted. When it comes to Super Bowl spots, the company has yet to transcend its reputation for cheap and tawdry messaging. But it’s hard to imagine what good comes to the company when it consistently shows itself to be callous or indifferent toward animals. That’s not a winning business strategy in 2015. Ask SeaWorld about that.