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Will Groupon Sell the Shark They Jumped with Super Bowl Ads?

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 7, 2011 2:44PM

2011_2_7_groupon_fail.jpg Before the Super Bowl, how many of you realized Groupon had a sense of humor? And that it could be pretty offensive to some? That's what we're guessing the water cooler conversation is this morning regarding the local daily deal company and its Super Bowl ads (we've included all of them below). They may have spent millions to advertise before and during the Packers' coronation, but the reaction immediately after the spots aired is the type of publicity that can't be bought.

The most-talked about of the three ads is the spot featuring actor Timothy Hutton. It begins with a solemn voice-over about the situation in Tibet, before cutting to a shot of Hutton bragging about the deal he got along with 200 others at Himalayan Restaurant. The echo chamber response on Twitter was instantly and overwhelmingly negative, saying that Groupon exhibited bad taste.

But was it? Groupon set up this web page in conjunction with the ads, allowing current and new customers to effectively make a free $15 donation to one of three charities. But none of that was mentioned in any of the ads that ran last night, which sort of undercuts Groupon's intent. Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason also took to the press to defend the ads.

"The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?"

Legendary marketing exec Rohit Bhargava gave Groupon's ad campaign the worst marketing strategy of Super Bowl XLV. Marc van der Chijs, CEO of Spil Games Asia and co-founder of called Groupon's ad "Dumb, dumber, dumbest".Himalayan owner Vivek Kunwar was taken aback when he saw the ad, telling CNN in a phone interview that it was an "uh-oh" moment.

With regards to the Hutton/Tibet ad, China isn't laughing. Shanghaiist editor Kenneth Tan notes that the ad managed to piss off people on both sides of the Tibet issue for making light of it. The ad may also have done some damage to Groupon's plan to hire 1,000 Chinese employees by March.

We don't know if people are talking about Tibet, saving the whales, or the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest this morning. But they're sure as hell tallking about Groupon.