GoDaddy has pulled its Super Bowl ad after viewers were upset about how it depicted a lost puppy.
The ad, a riff on Budweiser's spot this year, featured a little dog who falls off a pickup truck and then endures long miles and rainy weather to make his way home. Once there, running up the dirt road to a big red barn, he jumps up to greet his owner.
"Look! It's Buddy! I'm so glad you made it home," she says as he jumps into her arms and licks her face, "because I just sold you on this website I built with GoDaddy."
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Cut to the puppy back in a van.
"Ship 'em out!" says the woman.
The puppy whimpers. We catch a glimpse that longtime spokeswoman Danica Patrick is the driver. Then the door slams.
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The ad drew negative reactions immediately after it aired exclusively on TODAY. The domain name registration company attempted to mollify the crowd via Twitter, but pressure continued to mount throughout the day as the story spread online, especially through dog lover groups. A Change.org petition to remove the ad racked up over 42,000 signatures by day's end.
Finally at the end of the day the company decided to pull the ad, releasing this statement by its CEO Blake Irving:
"This morning we previewed GoDaddy's Super Bowl spot on a popular talk show, and shortly after a controversy started to swirl about Buddy, our puppy, being sold online. The responses were emotional and direct. Many people urged us not to run the ad. We've made a tremendous amount of progress over the past two years, advancing the GoDaddy brand as a company that cares a great deal about small business and is in their corner to help them succeed. People increasingly know who we are, what we do and who we do it for. At the end of the day, our purpose at GoDaddy is to help small businesses around the world build a successful online presence. We hoped our ad would increase awareness of that cause. However, we underestimated the emotional response. And we heard that loud and clear. The net result? We are pulling the ad from the Super Bowl. You'll still see us in the Big Game this year, and we hope it makes you laugh. Finally, rest assured, Buddy came to us from a reputable and loving breeder in California. He's now part of the GoDaddy family as our Chief Companion Officer and he's been adopted permanently by one of our longtime employees."
Previously known for its risqué spots involving women in various stages of comic undress, the domain name registration company has had a change of approach lately. Its ad last year featured a woman quitting her job live on national television. Another had an extended kiss between model Bar Refaeli and a schlubby actor.
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When news broke that GoDaddy was going to put a puppy in its ad this year, it seemed like the renegade had gone soft. But the company had a surprise in store with its twist ending.
The GoDaddy ad was clearly a dig on Budweiser's spot this year, which also features a lost dog trying to find its way home. Last year, pundits declared that Budweiser had "won the Super Bowl" with its heartwarming spot about a horse trainer, his Clydesdale and a yellow Labrador puppy.
Earlier in the day, unhappy viewers wrote in to TODAY to say they didn't like how the ad treated animals. Some accused it of making light of controversial internet "puppy mills."
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"Poking fun at a puppy mill is not a laughing matter," wrote Mick Magnuson. "And I hope they get bombarded with calls and emails letting them know how disgusting the commercial is."
"Who ever created this ad clearly has no knowledge of puppy mills and who normally sell puppies over the Internet," wrote Jean Owen.
Reader Anne Holm sent in an email with the subject line, "Go Daddy - 4 year old reaction," that simply contained a picture of a young girl with a horrified face.
Others however just laughed it off. "GoDaddy's big game ad is not your average cute puppy video. #funny but #surprised. LOL" tweeted @nekostickley.
For comparison, take a look at a GIF Budweiser released of this year's spot. Then take a stroll down feel-good lane and look at the beermaker's spot from last year.
—By Ben Popken, TODAY.com/money.
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Disclosure: CNBC's sister company NBC Sports broadcasts the Super Bowl.