Sensational Superbowl: Groupon Gets Offensive

Observations February 8, 2011 2:39 pm




1. Producing or designed to produce a startling effect, strong reaction, intense interest, etc., especially by exaggerated, superficial, or lurid elements: a sensational novel. 

The Superbowl this year was a bit… sensational.  And by the Superbowl I mean everything surrounding the football game, not the football game itself. (That part I could honestly care less about) Christina Aguilera kicked things off with a bang by forgetting the lyrics to our national anthem, I made some out-of-this-world-slap-your-mama good nutella cupcakes, and oh… Groupon got offensive.

Oh yeah, all in all a pretty sensational Superbowl.

But let’s talk more about the real eye opener-  my cupcakes Groupon’s foray into TV advertising.  Just in case you haven’t seen the Superbowl spot that’s generating all the buzz, here it is:


Sensational. Downright offensive. And [just too damn] cocky.

Cocky? Because as it turns out, the ads were meant for good (say what?!)… and cocky because Groupon expected viewers to understand that they were poking fun of themselves, not Tibet… from 30 seconds that was void of any mention of charitable intentions. Hey Groupon, here’s a little lesson from advertising 101: You can’t assume the consumers know anything about your company/product/service going into watching your commercial.  What they see is what they get, so you need to ask yourself: is my message clear for my consumers?  Or is this ad just sensational?

I’m not sure Groupon asked themselves that question (is my message clear), and I’m not sure they even care, given this cocky response on their blog:

“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 Groupon’s roots are in social activism – we actually began as cause-based website called The Point, and we continue to use Groupon to support local causes with our G-Team initiative. In our two short years as a business, we’ve already raised millions of dollars for national charities like Donors Choose and Kiva.

When we think about commercials that offend us, we think of those that glorify antisocial behavior – like the scores of Super Bowl ads that are built around the crass objectification of women. Unlike those ads, no one walks away from our commercials taking the causes we highlighted less seriously. Not a single person watched our ad and concluded that it’s cool to kill whales. In fact – and this is part of the reason we ran them – they have the opposite effect.

The firm that conceived the ad, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, strives to draw attention to the cultural tensions created by brands. When they created this Hulu ad, they highlighted the idea that TV rots your brain, making fun of Hulu. 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?

We took this approach knowing that, if anything, they would bring more funding and support to the highlighted causes.”

(Read the full blog post here)

Ah, the distaste just keeps growing, Groupon.  Not only do I feel that you’re trying to make me feel stupid for not understanding your tongue-in-cheek approach in the first place, (since it was soo clearrlly obvious that as a company with a history of charitable donations you would only have the purest of intentions…) you’ve also managed to use your agency as a scape goat  (ohhh but this is the agency’s thing- ‘they draw attention to the cultural tensions created by brands…’) while clearing yourself of any wrong whatsoever (“what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?”).

News flash, Groupon. Your ad bombed. I get it- you’re known for being an ‘offbeat’ and a generally ‘tongue-in-cheek’ company. (I mean, who expected you to turn down $6 billion from Google?) But you have to use some common sense!  You can be tongue-in-cheek and not be offensive (in fact, your competitor Living Social did it quite well)– but you, Groupon, you just had a bad ad. Period.  A general rule of advertising: If you have to explain the punch line/message to the consumer, you didn’t do a good job- regardless if the ad is funny/sentimental/quirky, etc. It’s just plain advertising 101: consumers need to understand the message.

Another news flash- yes, Crispin is known for creating ‘sensational’ campaigns- they created the tongue-in-cheek Hulu campaign mentioned in your blog as well as the recent Dominos ‘turnaround’ campaign. But the difference between these ads and yours?  Hulu pokes fun at TV- it’s a video watching platform and Dominos criticizes it’s own pizza.  You poke fun of an entire country’s ‘very culture!’ See my point?  The other campaigns only featured themselves- the consumer couldn’t be confused as to what Hulu was making fun of or what Dominos was criticizing.  With your campaign and the addition of a 3rd party (or should I say country),  there is opportunity for the consumer to be confused as to who/what is the brunt of the joke.  And I think it’s pretty clear given the response to the ads and your quick reformatting of the ads that most consumers were confused.

So, the point? Sensationalism alone can’t sell a product.  Advertisers need to follow some basic 101 logic: is the message clear to consumers?  And Groupon, your message was for viewers to support various charitable causes, which was completely lost given your approach.  So while I applaud you for trying something new and for staying true to the quirky nature of your company, I think you got way too wrapped up in the ‘trying to be different’ approach to think about the campaign objectively.  It’s time you went to advertising/common sense 101 and gave us a real apology.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Sensational Superbowl: Groupon Gets Offensive « Just Allie --

  • Jackie Coughlan

    And now you have another subscriber 🙂 YAY! Great job, Allie~

    • justallie

      Thanks so much Jackie! 🙂

  • Thomas

    Excellent post!
    The ad is terrible… the Groupon answer is even worse. Shame on you, the audience, for not understanding the true meaning of this ad. A-hem… not the greatest way to handle yourself in such a situation.
    Great job tearing apart all that went wrong in what is arguably the worst ad in this year’s Superbowl line up!