Lesson for a CEO: don’t trumpet your elephant kill

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

Shooting an elephant and posting the video on your blog is not a smart marketing move, as the chief executive of America’s biggest web registration company is discovering.

Since posting the four-minute video in which he claimed to be helping Zimbabwean villagers by “hunting problem elephant[s]”, Bob Parsons, the founder and chief executive of GoDaddy, has been inundated with appalled messages from customers and the public.

In the video Mr Parsons, a Vietnam veteran turned entrepreneur, is seen wearing sunglasses and a black cap, binoculars slung around his neck and a magazine of bullets on his belt while he talks to villagers in Labola, Zimbabwe.

“This is a prime example of the damage these elephants have been causing in this sorghum field, just hammered,” Mr Parsons said while he surveyed the flattened crops. “They’ve been here three nights in a row. We’re hoping they’ll come back for a fourth. And if they do, well, we’re going to be here to greet them.”

A subtitle states: “Unless elephant [sic] are stopped entire crop may be lost.” The video then cuts to night-time and Mr Parsons and others stalking a group of bull elephants. Muzzle flares from two rifle shots — said to be fired by Mr Parsons — light up the night.

“One bull is killed,” reads a subtitle, followed by a series of photographs of Mr Parsons grinning and leaning against the dead elephant, resting his rifle on its head. A large group of villagers was shown butchering the animal for meat, removing its thick hide with knives and machetes and hacking out chunks of flesh. AC/DC rock music was played on the soundtrack and a number of villagers were wearing GoDaddy caps.

Mr Parsons’ ten-day hunting expedition with the African Safari Company would have cost $15,000 (£9,200) plus a “trophy fee” of $16,000 for killing an elephant with tusks, according to the company website.

The video, and Mr Parsons’ boast that by killing elephants he was protecting the livelihoods of poor Zimbabweans, has caused outrage. The charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has closed its account with GoDaddy and urged its supporters to do the same. A Peta spokeswoman branded Mr Parsons “America’s scummiest CEO of the year”.

Namecheap, a rival company, has led the backlash, saying that it was disturbed by the video. It offered discounted rates and promised to pay the charity Save the Elephants $1 for every customer that switches from its competitor. Namecheap said that it had raised more than $20,000 for the Kenyan-based organisation headed by Ian Douglas-Hamilton. Mr DouglasHamilton welcomed the donation as “a constructive reaction” to the video.