Move over sexy ladies, GoDaddy ads are growing up

Martha C. White
Getty Images

In the past, GoDaddy ads aimed for sexy: Bar Refaeli, Danica Patrick and lots of skin.

But now GoDaddy wants to shed its sophomoric image and move away from sexually-suggestive advertising that had defined the Web domain registration and hosting company.

So move over, pretty ladies, and make way for action star Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Featuring Van Damme in a muscle shirt, posing with a variety of zany props to motivate a bakery owner to finish a big order, the first of two new commercials debuted Thursday night during the NFL season opener on NBC. The next one will be coming on Sept. 16 during the second week of Monday night football on ESPN. The campaign also includes online display advertising and social sharing elements, said chief marketing officer Barb Rechterman.

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"The previous advertising, honestly, was awesome to drive brand awareness," Rechterman said. But after the company conducted market research about a year ago, it realized it had outgrown the frat-boy humor that was central to its advertising.

"What we began learning is customers really liked us and liked our edginess but they wanted us to talk to them in a bit more of a grown-up tone and manner," Rechterman said.

GoDaddy's rebranding targets small business owners, more than half of whom are women, so the company needed marketing that was more female-friendly. The new campaign "gives us opportunity to expand our media buying into more female demographics," she said. GoDaddy plans to target programs like Ellen, The Today Show and others whose viewership skews female.

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"It goes beyond just messaging," Rechterman said. "We felt we wanted to go down this path because we wanted to make it abundantly clear that our mission is to ... be one with the small-business owner."

Long-time GoDaddy spokeswoman and race car driver Danica Patrick is still around, Rechterman said, but titillating ads will be replaced by ones with a more inspirational tone. And GoDaddy isn't giving up its trademark edginess entirely. Van Damme is billed as "the 'ass-kicker' inside every small business owner," according to the company.

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—By Martha C. White, NBC