Monday, February 7, 2011

Let's gang up on Groupon

As usual, last night's crop of Super Bowl ads included the good, the bad, and the ugly.

One of the most complained about among my Twitter gang wasn't even one of the sexy ones. It was the Groupon spot, by CP + B:

Don't get me wrong. I have a sense of humour, and it can be quite a cynical one. But I still think this was a big mistake for a brand that is going mainstream.

Why? Because social media have given people their own soap boxes, which they are more than happy to use. And those people have a tendency to take things very, very seriously.

The joke was intended to be absurd, but the absurdity presumed a lack of seriousness in the whole matter. It was an attempt at post-serious humor - but most people with common sense agree that the struggles of Tibet still deserve respect and seriousness. The joke is on anyone who really cares. It came across as the kind of out-of-touch humor that overprivileged, spiritually mean, advertising industry creatives (specifically, the kind that kids refer to as "douchebags") would come up with. That's one explanation why the commercial was offensive, but view it below and offer your own if you like. Another perspective: As Rabbi Eliyahu Fink said on Twitter tonight, "Amazing. More people are offended by Groupon's ads than the coarse objectification of women in EVERY SINGLE OTHER AD!"

- Read Write Web

By using the troubles of the Tibetan people to advertise its services, Groupon managed to infuriate, well, everyone. Seconds after the spot aired, Twitter erupted with posts of outrage about the commercial. And the hate-fest has only increased this morning, with outlets like Forbes reporting that both Chinese and Tibetan activists were outraged by the ad. (The Chinese didn’t like the fact that the commercial declared the Tibetan people “in trouble” — a fact they vehemently dispute; and, obviously, Tibetans don’t like it because their plight has been cheapened by becoming the set up for a $15 coupon.)

- Digital Trends

Who is in charge of decision-making at Groupon? Because not only did the discount site turn down $6 billion from Google last year, they also produced the worst Super Bowl ad of 2011. And cast Timothy Hutton in it!

There must have been someone along the way who said, you know, "This isn't actually funny enough to overcome the callous treatment not just of Tibet but of earnest advocacy in general, guys," right? Wasn't there some courageous middle manager somewhere who said, "Listen, I totally 'get' the joke, it's just not that funny, and not really worth it, and weirdly hostile to Tibet, and people who try to make a difference," or something? Not even anyone who pointed out that Tibetans don't really eat a lot of fish?

- Gawker
The funny — or rather "tragic" thing about this is that according to their blog, Groupon had set up to make fun of themselves and to help the very causes they were lampooning:

Since we grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site ( and ended up selling coupons, we loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause. So we bought the spots, hired mockumentary expert Christopher Guest to direct them, enlisted some celebrity faux-philanthropists, and plopped down three Groupon ads before, during, and after the biggest American football game in the world.

You can view the already aired commercials, as well as new ones as we release them, at . And if you’ve saved enough money for yourself and feel like saving something else, you can donate to mission-driven organizations that are doing great work for the causes featured in our PSA parodies. If you guys pony up, Groupon will contribute matching donations of up to $100,000 for three featured charities – Rainforest Action Network, buildOn, and the Tibet Fund — and Groupon credit of up to $100,000 for contributions made to Greenpeace.

Oh, man. So Groupon, which isn't even three years old but is growing fast, wanted to beat its sudden rush of competition by becoming a household name. Spending $3 million to get into every American household via the Super Bowl must have seemed like a great idea.

But you know what's not a great idea? Putting sophisticated and/or obscure attempts at self-deprecating humour on during a football game, when emotions and expectations are at an all-time high. And poking fun at issues that people tend to get really emotional about as well. You add that match to the dry pile of hay that is a bunch of drunk people on Twitter, and you have something that is very much beyond your control.

The Tibet ad was part of a series, all starring well-known Hollywood actors. The other two made fun of deforestation and saving the whales:

I actually feel bad for Groupon. They spent all that money, and all that creative talent, just to piss people off. And yet, their ads were not mean-spirited. Like Guest's films, they feature a particular style of humour that just isn't accessible — or even funny — to everyone. And they managed to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in front of all the wrong people.

Perhaps Groupon should forget about going mainstream and focus more on niche markets.

Like people who buy ironic t-shirts online:


  1. Pffft, I laughed and will continue buying Groupons.

  2. Making ads like that that offend people will only serve to grow the Groupon brand. Any publicity is good publicity after all...

  3. It is a informative info and i hope it really helpful for my How to join Groupon business. It offer consumers great values by guaranteeing businesses a minimum number of customers.