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Groupon’s $3 Million Super Mistake That People Won’t Save Money On

Groupon's Timothy Hutton's Super Bowl CommercialThe Super Bowl is one of the biggest commercial spotlights in all of advertising’s history. In the past couple of posts, I’ve written about commercial faux pas and interesting success stories in dealing with brands. However, who would have thought that on the heels of designer Kenneth Cole’s infamous tweet that there would be a company that is involved in the web 2.0 sphere committing such “atrocities”? Of course, by now, you’re probably aware that I’m referring to Groupon’s rather insensible commercials featuring Timothy Hutton, Elizabeth Hurley and Cuba Gooding, Jr. that aired during Super Bowl XLV.

So just what was Groupon thinking?

I get what Groupon was trying to do. It was trying to raise more brand awareness and tell the rest of the world that it’s coupon-clipping version 2.0. It’s the way to save some money using select deals and companies. But unfortunately the actual execution of Groupon’s tactics with this commercial was a bit outrageous. In fact, the word “outrageous” was used to describe what the commercials were going to be about…but only in a pretend manner – we were supposed to express faux outrage over some “trivial” plight that we would laugh at the end of the commercial and think happy thoughts about the company. BUT, what was supposed to be faux outrage turned into true outage. It’s very hard to harp on a major tragedy that is either polarizing or a real disaster and poke fun at it…even comedians will probably tell you that you should tread lightly. Groupon didn’t tread lightly. They stomped right through the way.

So I can save money in a Tibetan restaurant but who cares about their plight.

Just what kind of message was Groupon trying to say here? These videos have become instantly viral, not in a good way, but in a bad way for people to continually bash them and tweet out that they were going to unsubscribe from the service. And while Groupon’s CEO, Andrew Mason, is still a very smart entrepreneur and one who you would typically respect, he seems to follow the line that Kenneth Cole initially did and offer not really an apology, but an excuse.

Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. Why make fun of ourselves? Because it’s different – ads are traditionally about shameless self promotion, and we’ve always strived to have a more honest and respectful conversation with our customers. We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes – even if we didn’t take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?

One thing that Mr. Mason is right about, we’re not consistent in our uproar. When the GoDaddy commercials are aired during the Super Bowl, we’re not always angered by them – some of us find them appealing or just not worth the time. But when we harp on the plight of mankind over things that affect us globally and goes against societal norms, then this becomes something more of a debate. But, not really sure that Groupon is getting it.

With all due respect to Mr. Mason, I believe that while you’re right that highlighting the “trivial nature of stuff on Groupon” compared to bigger world issues is the right way to think about life, I do disagree about the way that you’ve gone about and done it. Instead of bringing us into this serious mood about whale extinction, Tibet oppression or deforest Brazil, why must you then go to talk about saving money on a deal that is tied in with a twisted alternate reality (e.g. saving money on a whale watching cruise, going to a Tibetan restaurant for good food, etc.)? That becomes insulting to the people who actually care.

I get it’s a joke, but there are limits.

Groupon

I understand the humor in the commercial and Groupon’s agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, did a pretty good job with that, but are we saying that we’re going to feel better about saving the rain forest or freeing Tibet by getting a Brazilian wax or even eating out? You’ve got to be kidding me! It’s outrageous to think that these would not offend anyone, Groupon! The ads are still up on Groupon’s website and they’re now promoting ways to “join the discussion” where you can donate money to the respective causes.

While I applaud their initiative and ability to definitely strike up the conversation about saving the whales, Tibetan plight and even deforestation, I must say that they probably could have garnered WAY more goodwill by putting their Groupon platform to good use by promoting this charity work during the Super Bowl commercials. On the heels of the Kenneth Cole debacle, should Groupon’s position have been any different? Probably. While most people that I’ve talked to have found it to be offensive or at the very least insensitive, there are probably an equal number who say that it was funny. But one thing could definitely be said is that making humor over traditionally non-humorous subjects like Groupon did is a BIG risk that many probably cannot pull off.

So where do you stand?

Published in Case Studies Featured Headline Marketing Video