SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This is the ad you won't see during tonight's Super Bowl: A television executive sitting in a glass conference room, rendered speechless by the sight of a woman in a tight white tank top soaping up a window and pressing her chest against it.
It's racy; it's provocative and, according to ABC, it's totally inappropriate. The network refused to air that ad and a dozen others submitted by GoDaddy. com, a company that was kicked off last year's Super Bowl for an ad deemed indecent. This year it took GoDaddy 14 rounds of negotiations to get a spot approved for the big game.
The company's primary business is registering and hosting Web sites. Its secondary business is making commercials that are, in the words of its president, "the standard for what is inappropriate and tasteless when it comes to a television ad."
It does both very well.
It's the work of a Baltimore native. Bob Parsons, founder and president of GoDaddy, is waging a virtual one-man war on groups trying to clean up television. He believes that a small but vocal minority has hijacked American TV - and made it terribly boring. He wants to take it back.
That strategy paid off last year after GoDaddy's Super Bowl ad, which aired during the first quarter of the game, generated so much concern among Fox executives that it was pulled from its scheduled fourth quarter slot. The fracas that followed landed Parsons on TV news shows, gave him the momentum to launch a national radio program and catapulted GoDaddy to the No. 1 Internet domain registrar in the world.
The mission continues tonight, when a 30-second GoDaddy ad will air during the first half of the game. The ad was approved Thursday, one day after Parsons publicly called out ABC for setting a "double standard" in evaluating GoDaddy ads. He maintains that all 13 rejected ads (including one featuring a young woman at a sudsy car wash) were appropriate for TV but rejected out of fear.
"We have this cadre of people who are in search of being offended, and they cherish that," Parsons said in a recent interview in his Scottsdale office, where he keeps two punching bags and an autographed photo of Clint Eastwood. "They want to be offended, and they need to be offended, and then it's their chance to go to war."
Parsons goes to war, too - several times a week on his personal blog and on his weekly radio show, Radio Go Daddy, broadcast by XM and Sirius satellite radio for the last year. On a recent program, he said those who have a problem with his ads are overreacting: "You could have a commercial that just showed tulips pollinating, and people would become upset."
The Super Bowl was once where America could go to see crotch-biting dogs and flatulent horses. No one seemed to mind. But then, two years ago, viewers saw something else - a brief glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast during the halftime show.
CBS, the network that broadcast the 2004 Super Bowl, was hit with $550,000 in fines, and ads for the big game lost their edge. The networks are afraid of fines. The NFL is afraid of complaints. The advertisers are afraid of boycotts.
But Parsons, 55, a former Marine who grew up in Highlandtown, seems afraid of nothing. (Except, perhaps, anonymity.) He takes on Yahoo, IBM and his competitors with glee. He called a news conference last week to say GoDaddy was being "singled out unfairly" by ABC. He then distributed to reporters a DVD of the rejected ads with the word "DENIED" stamped on the cover.
If GoDaddy is being singled out, it's because so few advertisers are following its lead. Ads for this year's Super Bowl will be softer in tone than previous years, because advertisers want to appeal to more women and because they don't want to be tagged immoral.
"I'm not sure how much more gross the ads can get without getting a whole lot of bad PR," said Lucian James, president of Agenda Inc., a brand consulting firm in San Francisco.
But James says GoDaddy's campaign for a Super Bowl ad has been brilliant. The company was able to reinforce its renegade personality, post the rejected ads on its Web site and generate loads of free publicity.
"They're very crude ads when they run, but it's a very sophisticated strategy," James said.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that Parsons comes from the same city that produced John Waters. Parsons grew up in East Baltimore, the oldest of three children. He attended Catholic elementary school, and his younger brother Allen remembers always having to stay late because Bob was being punished by the nuns.
By high school, he wasn't doing much better. Parsons graduated from Patterson High in 1968, even though he was, by his own admission, "a terrible student." But he had volunteered for the Marines and he showed his enlistment papers to all his teachers.