Has GoDaddy Already Won the Super Bowl?

If the point of a Super Bowl ad is to get people talking, then the answer is a resounding yes.

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By Laura Entis

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Yesterday, Internet domain registrar and web hosting company GoDaddy previewed its Super Bowl ad, starring a fluffy pup named Buddy. Less than 24 hours later, GoDaddy's CEO had apologized for the spot and announced that GoDaddy will pull the ad.

Talk about a tight news cycle…and the ultimate marketing coup.

The polarizing ad in question -- a clear spoof of Budweiser's heartstring-tugging "Lost Dog" ad that will run on Sunday – shows a puppy getting bounced from the back of a pickup truck, and follows him as he battles the elements to make his way back home, where he leaps into the outstretched arms of his owner.

"Look! It's Buddy! I'm so glad you made it home," the she says, as he happily licks her face, "because I just sold you on this website I built with GoDaddy." The pup is then packed in a van, and shipped away.

Related: Want Your Ad to Go Viral? Get a TV Network to Ban It.

The Internet swiftly reacted with Official Outrage -- commentators took to Twitter and Facebook to express their fierce disapproval over the ad's comedic depiction of what some interpreted to be a puppy mill. Animal rights activists joined the fray, including advocate Helena Yurcho, who launched a Change.org petition calling for the ad to be pulled.

In the blink of an eye, Blake Irving, GoDaddy's CEO, announced that the ad would indeed be removed from Sunday's lineup. "At the end of the day, our purpose at GoDaddy is to help small businesses around the world build a successful online presence," he wrote in a blog post. "We hoped our ad would increase awareness of that cause. However, we underestimated the emotional response. And we heard that loud and clear."

Irving's decision has largely been interpreted as the appropriate response to a woeful lapse in judgment, the best recourse in the wake of a very public mistake.

Except…look closely, and the whole thing looks more like a skillful marketing play, rather than an actual misstep.

Related: How to Generate Publicity on a Shoe-String Budget

GoDaddy will still run a Super Bowl spot. "You'll still see us in the Big Game this year, and we hope it makes you laugh," Blake wrote. As Variety notes, Super Bowl ads are screened well in advance by both the network broadcasting the game and the NFL; GoDaddy has already said that it is only planning on airing a single commercial during the game, which makes the company's 'we didn't anticipate this reaction' attitude look a little fishy.

And then there's the rapid-yet-polished nature of Irving's response, which not only manages to incorporate a plug about how GoDaddy's purpose is to champion small businesses, but also includes the touching detail that Buddy, the dog featured in the commercial, is "now part of the GoDaddy family as our Chief Companion Officer." (Buddy even has a Twitter account.)

What GoDaddy has unequivocally done is get people talking (the ad is generating plenty of press coverage, clearly) and watching (while the spot has been pulled from the company's official YouTube page, it's easy to find online). Meanwhile, the decision to back-pedal clears the stage for GoDaddy to air another, perhaps even bolder, commercial this Sunday.

And the cherry on top? By announcing that it will not run the ad, GoDaddy seems to have placated some of the people it most offended. "The sale of animals online and from pet stores and breeders should be roundly condemned, and it was today," PETA director Colleen O'Brien said in a statement to Adweek. "GoDaddy did the right thing by swiftly promoting adoption."

Related: Breeding Puppies to Blow Up Kittens

Laura Entis
Laura Entis is a reporter for Fortune.com's Venture section.

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