Groupon Responds to Super Bowl Commercial Controversy

Illustration for article titled Groupon Responds to Super Bowl Commercial Controversy

Yesterday, Groupon dipped into its $950 million piggy bank, and spent a bit of that dough on a couple Super Bowl ads. The group-discount service touted the spots as a way to give in to its "Napolean complex" and "invade the rest of the world" with a proper primetime commercial.


Groupon sure did make a splash at the game, but from all the post-Super Bowl buzz, it's clear the company stumbled in creating the right impression for the brand. One of the spots, which many found borderline offensive, seemed to trivialize the political struggle currently going on in Tibet. In a blog post today, CEO Andrew Mason responded to the controversy, and, in doing so, may have revealed the culprit behind the ad: Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Except, Alex Bogusky, the so-called Ad Jesus behind the very Hulu-Alec Baldwin Super Bowl spot Mason cites in his explanation, famously quit the ad biz months ago. (Let's hope Groupon got at least 33.3% off on the deal.)

Though Mason took responsibilty for the spot, explaining that trivializing Tibet's cause was never Groupon's intention, the company's founder was clear about who came up with the idea for the commercial:

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?

Groupon wasn't able to say with 100% certainty that Bogusky was not involved with the commercial. But his former firm, as reported in a recent Fast Company profile, has been in a transition period since his departure.

With Crispin Porter + Bogusky no longer actually Crispin, Porter, and Bogusky, has the industry's hottest ad agency finally lost its flair? Whatever the case, Mason and Groupon have proved that there's nothing less humorous than a joke explained.

Illustration for article titled Groupon Responds to Super Bowl Commercial Controversy

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I think all parties are stupid here. Groupon, in trying to come up with a "socially responsible" retort to its critics, just digs itself further into a hole. It's a 100% commercial advertisement. There can be no pretense that this was even partly about raising awareness on the Tibet issue. But on the other hand, I can't stand the disingenuous explanation of the outrage surrounding this ad. Face it, it's not about anybody making light of the Tibet situation. It's about people not wanting to have to think about troubling political issues when they mull over purchasing 2 pairs of imported panties from for $23. They will, of course, dress up this mock hysteria as stemming from a sense of social responsibility, because they are at least self-aware enough to know that telling the truth (that they just want cheap shit with no fuss) makes them look like the assholes they really are.

The message of the ad ultimately reinforces complacency and salves the wound with the promise of easy consumerism. The reason for this is not because the ad is meant to be taken literally, but because the irony ("Hey, we're laughing at how we ignore these important world issues, meanwhile consuming culture connected tangentially to those world issues in a carefree manner! How clever!") ultimately serves the same purpose as a literal reading.

Just because you're poking fun at the contradiction doesn't mean that you aren't still engaging in the contradiction. That's why the ad blows. Not because it trivializes the Tibet situation, but because it makes a keen bit of social criticism, then "lets us off the hook" with the emotional outlet of buying shit we don't need.