When Canadian James Hinchcliffe launched a rogue social campaign to replace fellow GoDaddy-sponsored race car driver Danica Patrick on GoDaddy’s homepage, the company embraced the challenge and proved that sometimes, giving in to the chaos
is the only way forward
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GoDaddy.com’s ads typically take a page out of Axe’s playbook and feature curvy women flashing a lot of skin (what this has to do with GoDaddy’s product—internet domain names—no one knows, but there you have it).
The most famous of these “GoDaddy Girls” is NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, who has appeared in various sultry outfits for the company’s Super Bowl and online ads, usually with a knowing smirk to acknowledge the tawdry marketing tactic. There are plenty of other women strutting and posing for the brand, but as one Twitter fan put it, “When you hear GoDaddy you think of Danica Patrick. You hear Danica Patrick, you think of GoDaddy.”
But there has been a small coup. Another GoDaddy-sponsored race car driver, James Hinchcliffe (a Canadian and, more unexpectedly, a man) launched a social media campaign to replace Patrick on GoDaddy’s homepage. In July, he got his wish. Hinchcliffe (“Hinch” to his fans) is an up-and-comer in the racing world and yet another in the tide of young sports figures who are digital natives using social media to build a personal brand separate from that of their professional associations. Like basketballer Chris Bosh lobbying fans for All-Star votes through online videos, Hinch is hands-on when building a public image (formerly the domain of PR teams). In this case, that approach scored a small but very visible victory for the Oakville, Ontario, native and better positioned him as a marketing vehicle for his biggest sponsor who just happens to be a regular Super Bowl advertiser. Talk about exposure.
And credit is due to GoDaddy, which embraced the driver’s bid for publicity and ended up with a broader marketing arsenal as a result. A bit of bravery on both sides created a win-win situation.
Hinch launched his own website, Hinchtown.com, in 2006 to showcase his accomplishments first as a kart racer and now on the Indycar circuit. He’s been producing videos, photos and offering behind-the-scenes insights, positioning himself as the “mayor” of Hinchtown to his growing fanbase. This understanding of the social space helped his cause when, earlier this year, he started publicly lobbying GoDaddy for the homepage spot.
“Danica Patrick is a phenomenal racing driver; she’s done great things for our sport,” Hinch says on a video promoting his campaign. “The fact of the matter is she’s been around a little while now.”
The move was a risk. He was not taking part in a sanctioned GoDaddy campaign, but was dabbling in a key sponsor’s brand story in a very public way. Lucky for him, that sponsor is used to empowering its audience—and its media properties.
“As he started this campaign, I started watching him on Facebook and Twitter,” says Barb Rechterman, GoDaddy’s chief marketing officer and one of its founding executives. “At some point, we went ‘We kinda like this.’”
Rechterman says she appreciated the tone with which the Canadian steered his homepage bid. He never trashed Patrick, even in jest. “He’s played it very well. He’s got a lot of respect for Danica. It’s not disparaging to Danica at all. His campaign said ‘I’m like her. I’m with her.’ He attached himself to the biggest brand name in terms of our company. That was smart.”
So, appreciative of Hinch’s style and voice, GoDaddy invested in his idea to expand its reach by starting a larger marketing campaign. It made video ads to let each racer lobby for Twitter votes and bid for homepage supremacy. In the end #HinchForHomepage beat #Danica4Ever. As a result, GoDaddy has another face for future marketing efforts to complement Patrick’s coquettish performances.
Hinch’s social media circle aside, an attractive male face could help find new audiences. He was recently featured in an OOH effort surrounding the Honda Toronto Indy race. He’ll likely appear more prominently in future campaigns as well, though his Super Bowl debut may have to wait; GoDaddy hasn’t confirmed whether it will book airtime during the big game this year.