Groupon Apologizes for Super Bowl Ad

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Groupon may be brilliant at promoting deals for other companies, but when it comes to promoting itself, the company still needs a bit of work, as millions of viewers found during the Super Bowl this weekend.

Of all the advertisements aired during the big game, none seemed to stir up quite as much controversy as Groupon’s commercial, which seemingly poked fun at an ongoing cultural crisis in Tibet to highlight a deal the site offered for a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago. In the hours after it aired, Groupon’s ad proved to be one of the most talked-about spots from the game, but it also had the most negative feedback, according to one report monitoring viewer reactions on Twitter.

Now, the company is attempting to clarify its intentions to the millions of consumers who felt the ad was in bad taste, noting that this ad was not intended to make light of Tibet’s struggles but rather to raise awareness for the country.

“We take the causes we highlighted extremely seriously – that’s why we created this campaign in partnership with many hallmark community organizations, for whom we’re raising money at SaveTheMoney.org,” Andrew Mason, the founder and CEO of Groupon, wrote in an open letter on the company website. “We took this approach knowing that, if anything, they would bring more funding and support to the highlighted causes … The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers – it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.”

This message seemed to get lost in the ad, which began as a quasi public service announcement for Tibet only to abruptly switch to a deal for Tibetan food.

“The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy, but they still whip up an amazing fish curry,” actor Timothy Hutton says in the ad. “And since 200 of us bought it at Groupon.com, we’re each getting $30 of Tibetan food for $15.”

According to Mason, the structure of the ad is intended to poke fun at Groupon itself, by highlighting “the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues” like the crisis in Tibet.

Indeed, Mason is infamous for coming up with unusual marketing tactics like a promotion giving away a free scholarship to any child born from a couple that used a Groupon on their first date (a promotion aptly titled Grouspawn). This Super Bowl ad seems to be just one more attempt at being different.

“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,” Mason wrote.

Well, if the goal was to make Groupon into a laughing stock, then the company seems to have succeeded. Even with Mason’s explanation, it’s difficult to understand why any young business would blow $3 million on an unconventional ad, knowing the best possible outcome is that it would make fun of the business itself and the worst case scenario being that it would lead to mass outrage.

The controversy will certainly die down soon, but the real issue here is that Groupon missed an incredible opportunity to reach millions of new customers.

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