Thursday, March 31, 2011

When the CEO goes hunting

Will the GoDaddy brand suffer because their CEO shot an elephant?

Right now, the social media networks are alive with calls for anyone with a GoDaddy domain to yank them because of this. A competitor is jumping on the bandwagon to try to gain marketshare.

What's surprising is the lack of mainstream news coverage of this - (at this hour). It probably will perk up, soon.

So, it remains to be seen if this incident will hit GoDaddy in the pocketbook, immediately and in the long term.

So far, has not issued any statement about this. If history is any indication, this story will get bigger and force a response from GoDaddy.

April 1, 8 a.m PST UPDATE: The story has broken open. Parsons is defending his actions in interviews, such as here.


For those who are discovering Bob Parsons videos for the first time, this one may be shocking. But, this is who he is. His image - bravado, take life by the horns (sorry, had to use it), live life to its fullest - is already defined, particularly by the brand of his company and the videos he stars in for the company.

But what is more shocking is how seemingly out of touch Mr. Parsons is with regard to the impact of his conduct away from the office. There are plenty of CEOs who like to hunt. Ted Turner's image only improved when he went out on hunting trips, or in later years for building up a herd of bison on his sprawling ranches (bison raised for their meat, mind you). Dick Cheney's image faltered when he went hunting.

But, elephants? In 2011?

Regardless of the facts or claims about the impact of elephants in certain areas of the world (overpopulation, etc.) and regardless of the fact that Parsons' video points out that the killing was necessary to keep a village from starving, and regardless that the entire elephant ended up feeding more than the local was an elephant.

Does Parsons need to go on the offensive to explain all the "pros" for this, um - in his view - justified killing? Perhaps. He may have a slight opportunity here to crusade about the issue of problem elephants. (But I wouldn't use the word "problem.")

However, the real question is why a CEO of a leading brand like GoDaddy thought there would be NO consequences from killing an elephant. I'm sure there would be little or no repercussions had he killed a deer or elk. Killing an elephant begins to cross over into a different realm. Think: documentaries about killing dolphins.

True, this was the second year in a row for this kind of expedition for Mr. Parsons. There were no apparent repercussions the first time - but now the video is out for his second one. Lesson: Don't be fooled that a lack of reaction in the first instance doesn't mean there won't be screaming the second time.

The point here is this: At any level of rational thinking - killing an elephant and then boasting about it with a video is bound to prompt a significant percentage of customers to switch domain providers. That is a reasonable calculation to make before boarding the plane to Africa. This is bound to make some potential customers more carefully examine their choices. It may cause some employees to resign. There may be lasting impacts to the brand and the bottom line. What the CEO does in private life, as we all know, has direct impact on his or her company.

Update: In the NY Times interview, Parsons sees this act actually increasing sales for GoDaddy. He is perhaps bolstered by the nearly 300 "likes" on his video?

Were any of these possibilities considered before (a) the expedition was organized and (b) the video was posted? They should have been - especially for a brand that tries to appeal to a broad cross section of the world.

It could be that Mr. Parsons and GoDaddy felt that since they have "crossed the line" (i.e. using sex to sell their website) before, and only saw revenues go up, nothing will be different this time.

However, think about the core customer base for GoDaddy. I can only imagine the average customer is young, Internet-savvy, perhaps more males than females. (Which is why they can put sexy models on their website to sell domains). Yet, my hunch is that this audience probably favors humanitarian causes, save the planet stuff, etc. Elephants fall into these categories.

Is this an Internet crisis? Not now, but it could be soon. This story will likely continue to unfold and will be interesting to see how GoDaddy responds.

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