Another year and another round of Super Bowl advertising. Some people actually watch it for the football game, but you wouldn’t know it if you read anything in the blogosphere about the (failed) half-time show or the consumer backlash over some commercials. Take Groupon for instance. Their ad touted human rights issues in Tibet, but for the purpose of advertising fish curry. The challenge, it seems, is to succeed at championing social issues, while not appearing insensitive or demeaning. Here’s a link to the advertisement:

What’s really interesting from a PR perspective is how the company is handling the situation. Here’s a link to a recent news article about the company’s efforts to apologize–sort of.

http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2011/02/07/groupon-ceos-non-apology-apology-letter-for-super-bowl-ad/

What is your opinion?

30 thoughts on “Offensive Super Bowl Ads

  1. I am not sure that Groupon’s half apology was really what they wanted to convey,.. if it was, uh … oops. I agree that they were really just apolopgizing to the fact that YOU didn’t get it. Perhaps in an effort to respond they were a bit hasty in some of the wording they used or maybe they didn’t have a good response prepared, or maybe their PR person is just that awful. Mayhaps they shouldn’t have brought up other advertisers sins while they were apologizing for thiers.

    Groupon’s big idea for thier commercial was honorable/humorous and I don’t think they did anything wrong, other than not get their message across in a clear and creative way. Instead of being cheeky they chose to go the real route, i.e., real celebs. Now if they had fake celebs or celebrities that are serious looking and sounding, but aren’t taken seriously in the eye of the public, ala Alec Baldwin, or actually had done a good job getting thier message accross, then maybe the half apology would not have even have been needed.

    I am not really surprised or shocked that they released a sub-par ad and used the same sub-par-ed-ness to craft a psuedo apology. It doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that they were unprepared. Of course the hype didn’t help them, the higher the hype, the more the public expects.

    I was reminded of a quote when I was reading their apology, goes a little something like, “If fortune favors the prepared… then I am skrewed.”

    1. I agree, I definitely don’t think they should have even bothered with the apology they released. Whether the commercial was funny or not is irrelevant, the fact that some people found it offensive makes it offensive, period. A company should never respond to public concern in such a passive aggressive manner.

      1. Agreed. The attempted parallel between brand philanthropic efforts and group savings was fragile at best. Still, how Groupon thought this ad was salient among consumers is baffling, as it reveals no consumer insight or deep emotional appeal. Try something like, “Saving money can save (fill in the blank).” My advice: do more research before you spend millions or advertising.

  2. It just so happens that I saw one of these three ads for my first time last night while watching TV. It was the one about Brazilian deforestation with Liz Hurley, and I have to say I was pretty furious. The fact that they were using humor in relation to something as serious as the Brazilian deforestation crisis as a marketing ploy for Goupon, instantly destroyed any respect I had for the company previously. This one 60 second TV spot had successfully pulled a genuine response out of me. I actually felt forced to look up their reasoning online and look at the other ad spots. Upon reading other articles and the one included about the companys “unapology,” I started to get the feeling that maybe this company wasn’t in fact making fun of good causes, but endorsing them??? Those tricky b*stards got me. I am all for the company’s “unapology.”-They really have no reason to apology, but they should however be clear on their reasoning. I think they were walking on some really thin ice taking a chance like this but they may have pulled it off. However, not everyone is as curious as me, there does seem to be slight disconnect, and perhaps this may anger people enough to completely write them off as a respectable company.

  3. I viewed this commercial as partially a criticism towards companies that tack on human rights issues just to appear socially conscious. Considering that the Tibetan issue is serious this tongue-in-cheek approach is a risky one, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily disrespectful. We live a politically correct world that will take something as offensive when the actual statement is pointing out a particular thing that is wrong in our culture.

    It’s also hard to criticize Groupon when they do work closely with charitable causes. Showing a provocative ad such as this might also help bring awareness to this issue since the commercial will be a topic of conversation.

    This ad has placed Andrew Mason in a tricky situation in terms of an apology. If he does apologize then he could be considered admitting guilt, which he clearly does not believe. Hiring a PR specialist might be a good idea bearing in mind that the framing of this commercial is important for it to be palatable for some viewers. This looks like a near no-win situation.

  4. Huh?What? The commercial is relating money saved at a Tibetan restaurant to the trouble that Tibet faces. I found this commercial to be confusing. I don’t see where the humor is at in this commercial. I can see how it would be distasteful to bring up the troubles that a country faces to make a point about saving money. It is somewhat shocking that they would choose to show this commercial during the Superbowl. The content contains nothing that would interest or relate to the typical Superbowl crowd. This was a bad ad and was also directed to the wrong audience.

  5. I am not offended by these commercials. I knew that Groupon has a particular and ridiculous sense of humor because I take the time to read the hilarious company and product descriptions that accompany every one of their group purchase coupons. The humor in these spots is totally in line with their brand image. Unfortunately the people that watch the Super Bowl aren’t necessarily the kinds of people that pay attention to descriptions at the bottom of pages. In fact most people aren’t the kinds of people that pay attention to the fine print even when it is funny. I liken this situation to the fun stuff some producers choose to place at the end of television or movie credits. Chuck Lore productions was known for those bonus frames of hilarity that fans could only read if they looked online or pressed the pause button.

    The main stream audience is not as aware of Groupon’s humor as they are of its product offer. I believe that enough time will pass that people will forget why they were upset at Groupon and it will just be top of mind for its service rather than this controversy. In other words, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

    1. I’m not really offended by the humor in the commercial per se. What offends me is how a corporation or a commercial can so willfully distill an entire country’s culture to costumes, food and something deserving pity. They are actually people…

  6. I’m not a fan of those commercials. I feel really concerned by these causes and the beginning of the ad directly caught my attention. But the transition disappointed me and at the end of the ad I feel more upset than convinced. I like the honesty attempted, but I don’t think the humor is well managed. I value commercial that wants to raise awareness to a cause, but comparing it with saving money on fish curry in New York is not really a creative link. They could have highlighted the charity they support or show how the brand is concerned about this cause.

    I think that a “unapologies” letter is a great way to answer criticism without admitting they did something wrong. Which they didn’t. They didn’t give less importance to the cause. They just made a mistake in the way to communicate their message. They couldn’t just don’t say anything while everyone was blaming them. It was a good initiative to explain to the public what was their intention. The letter helped me understand the commercial better, but their attempted humor doesn’t work for me.

  7. ok … I watched the commercial several times just to make sure that I can view it from different points. The first 12 second was you get touched by the Tibet culture. The other half is promoting their fish curry. Most people will think that is not funny to make this connection from Tibet culture and promoting a restaurant in US although Groupon sees it differently.

    The CEO see ads in general, in his point of view, “ads are traditionally about shameless self promotion”. The letter of Apology did mention that they would never run these ads if they “Trivialize” the causes. I think they did not measure that well in this ad. The letter also mentioned that if anything will happen regards this ad, it would bring more funding to the cause.

    The good thing is that they value their customers and they don’t want to offend them in anyway.

  8. The world is a little too PC…The commercial shocked me when I saw it during the Super Bowl but it also made me laugh. Why? Because I have read about the company and know about its charitable philosophy and understood the commercial to be a spoof.
    I think the Apology letter was fitting: Groupon shouldn’t apologize about the commercials. The point of the commercials is not to highlight their charities, it was to make fun of the trivia aspects of life when such bigger issues are out there in the world. If people are offended by the conditions in Tibet, then do something about it, but don’t be mad at Groupon for bringing up its existence- be mad at companies that support China and its hold on Tibet. Ignoring the reality of Tibet’s situation should be more offensive to people than this ad.

  9. I personally found the commercials to be rather funny. Though I can see why so many people had issues with them. I think the reason the Tibet commercial was so shocking is because the issue in Tibet is so new.
    I do think that the apology letter was ok. I do agree that they shouldn’t have to apologize but to then blame other commercials is probably not the best idea. The letter got the point across and as Groupon is a newer company I think that the commercials go the attention of people who didn’t know who they were. As they say any publicity is good publicity and in this situation I think they were right.

  10. This was a horrible way for Groupon to advertise. You would NEVER think from the beginning that this would be an ad for “fish curry.” It is so incredibly insensitive to Tibet. I agree with Erin O. that the apology letter was needed, but are they really apologizing if they turn around and place blame on other companies? Groupon can find other ways to advertise. This may have not offended some people, but it did upset many others. They need to be more thoughtful of everyone when producing future ads.

  11. I watched the Super Bowl, and either was away from the television when this ad came on or didn’t notice it at first, and just watched it online. I can see where some of the backlash is coming from, but this was FAR tamer then I was anticipating. If an ad tries to be even moderately edgy today, someone or some group of people is going to be offended. I applaud Groupon for not given a sincere apology, and I don’t think they have anything to apologize for. Fact of the matter is the publicity they got for this ad, and the subsequent apology, even though it is bad publicity, helps their name recognition and has probably garnered them more customers. Groupon offers low effort savings to people who want to eat out, and I think their are very few out there that would turn that down, even if they were offended by the ad.

  12. I thought the commercials were pretty funny but I can see were all the upset is coming from. I think the reason the Tibet was so shocking is because the issue is a new subject with high Sensitivity. Honestly, I think the commercial was harmless. I don’t think Groupon meant it in a cruel way. Yes, I do agree Groupon did use rather poor taste when developing this ad and probably shouldn’t have showed it. I can see both ways.

  13. I found this advertising very funny and I can see why a lot people have some issue with it. But, in my opinion I definitely agree with Groupon about this advertising, they grab a lot of attentions/eyes ball in such a short 30 sec ad like this one, at the beginning you can’t tell what’s going I personally thought this is about a charity or some travel agency that advertising for countries and tickets with deals like Expedia.com and travelagency.com. The Groupon could’ve done better ad, but actually this is what they needed to have the people attentions and hear their name. “Whether you like it or not you are talking about it”! there are too many different methods to garb people attention. obviously, Groupon used their own method to find out what people think about them.

  14. I was shocked when I first saw the Hutton commercial for Groupon and further shocked by Groupon’s attempt to explain their rationale behind the campaign. Since then, I’ve definitely lost faith in their service. Groupon seems to be operating under a certain smugness that leaves them looking as though they don’t care about their customers. Too big, too fast, and too diluted. Lately, I’ve noticed that I quickly browse Groupon’s daily email offerings and then just as quickly delete the emails that don’t immediately serve a useful need. I doubt that Groupon’s clients want me to so quickly pass up an opportunity to learn about their brands, yet they’re ultimately at fault by relying only on price to get my attention. I think as time goes on, many businesses will realize that turning over so much power to Groupon may serve diminishing returns.

  15. I think now a day people don’t care about what kind of example they use to peruke when it comes to commercial. Groupon do seem like they don’t care about their consumers, which can give them a bad representational opportunity about their brand image. My opinion towards this commercial that i don’t really agree what their coming from, and now i understand why people should have issue with the company. I think its smart idea how they used a partial country to advertise their image brand, but i think they could of done a lot better with just attracting their consumer with a simple factor.

    1. I agree with you on how companies disregard the image, vision, and reputation of their brand with lack of attention towards consequences of their advertisement. I also agree with the point that Groupon could have potentially done a lot better job with less risk threatening the brand reputation and image. However, I also believe that regardless of how much attention companies put into advertising to prevent sending wrong cultural messages, there will always be a group that they cannot satisfy.

  16. I watched all three of these ads and I didn’t like them at all. They didn’t offend me, I just thought they were bad. I didn’t find them funny or particularly insightful, obviously Groupon was just going for the shock value. Aside from that, I didn’t think the apology letter was all that great either. I think it’s fine that the company didn’t directly apologize, it deserves credit for sticking to its guns, but I think it was poorly written. It seems very poor form to through other advertising under the bus, women being objectified wasn’t part of the discussion and to bring it up is a ridiculous tactic that just makes the company look worse. In fact, I think by doing that, it is a subconscious admission of guilt. It was as though the CEO knew he made a mistake and instead of owning up to it, he tried to distract by pointing out the short-comings of other advertising.

  17. I first saw this ad a while ago, after that Superbowl, and felt it was extremely loose with its outlook on human rights and existence. I also, thought that the ad was an accident and that Groupon was not trying to convey this message but made a very large judgment error on what consumers would think was humor. This being said, now having read the apology letter, or lack there of, makes me think the company was trying to portray this humor. Whether Groupon intended for this ad to convey this message or not, I think it was the wrong campaign to run, humor used in the right way can be extremely successful, and a large part of humor is either poking at political issues or business ethics; the issue in Tibet, however, is extremely fragile and not properly educated enough throughout conusmers for this ad to be effective.

    It is hard to say whether Groupon should have apologized, if they actually believe they were trying to help the cause. In my opinion whether this helped the cause or not, it put the company in a bad public view, and not apologizing for the misrepresentation of their ad is a pretty poor move on the companies part. If they truly did intend for this message to be perceived this way, I think the company should have confronted the consumers it offended and tried harder to convince them of their angle, whatever that may be.

    In short this was a very contravention ad, with what seems to be a lack of care from the company about who they may have offended.

    1. I agree that I think Groupon didn’t intend to be offensive, but was trying to go for the humorous angle, but fell flat. As a result, the company later issued a formal public apology.

    2. I agree with what Matthew said about Groupon making a large judgement error on what consumers would think was humorous. If they would have really thought this ad through, they would have realized how diverse the population that watches the Superbowl really was. With this amount of viewership, you need to be more careful than ever when attempting to use humor especially when it’s aimed at a particular culture.

      I think that it is in Groupon’s best interest to apologize for any misunderstandings that the ad may have caused. If I were in their shoes I would want to make sure not to tick off a whole group of the population.

  18. You never know who you’re going to offend when advertise humorously. Taking an edge can be respected, but it also can be risky. Take Dr Peppers new Dr Pepper 21 commercial. It stars an “action” hero telling the female viewers that just like how his action movie is not meant for them, but the soda is not for them either. Obviously Dr Pepper is trying to get a firm hold on the male audience, but going out of one’s way to say the beverage is not for woman is a little too strong for my taste. Just like Groupon, these efforts fell flat. Maybe to them we just don’t see the humor, but that is not what matters. What matters is that we don’t find their adds humorous. But hey, they got us talking about them, right?

  19. Groupon did make a bad choice in pocking humor in the wrong direction. How did they not see it coming? Didn’t they test the AD with a sample audience?

    The damage was done and there PR executions to deal with the issue could have been stronger. I think Groupon is hoping the ordeal will blow over and be forgotten.
    Though the AD did cause an ethical issue it did also bring attention to the companies business. I for one did not know about Groupon till there Superbowl AD, and the only reason I checked them out was to understand what they do because i didn’t not quite understand from the AD.

  20. I have never been a big fan of Groupon, their business model causes more problems to a business than the benefits it creates. The way I see it, Groupon capitalizes on the fact that consumers are looking for lower prices and business are hoping for more cliental. Unfortunately this models drives prices so low that the only people that benefit is their company and individuals who only seek deals. This ad proves the point that Groupon is only interested in driving prices down despite what is at stake, in this case it was a whole country and society their used as the platform for their marketing campaign.

  21. After watching the commercial, I didn’t find it to be careless or offensive at all in regards to Tibet and its troubles. It was made to show the advantages of using Groupon and, as CEO Andrew Mason pointed out, actually aided in the support of various charities and funds, including the TIbet Fund. The Tibet Fund even backed the ad campaign by Groupon. Too many people find things to be offensive, demeaning, or insensitive when there is little to be criticized in the first place. It wasn’t made with the intention of doing so and to make a huge issue out of it was unnecessary. It is a touchy issue and one that should be treated with caution, but Groupon didn’t cross any line with its ad.

  22. In my opinion, this ad had three main objectives : creating the buzz, deliver a message by using humor and use a social cause to sensitize people about a current crisis in the world. They also chose to broadcast this ad during the Superbowl. On the one hand, the first two objectives were reached. On the other hand, using the human rights issues in Tibet was not the best idea to deliver this message.They obviously tried to use the second degree. They limit their expansion in China, they make fun of a current crisis. A good initiative would be to create and organize an event to raise money about this issue.They didn’t took actions about this PR crisis, they tried to removed it by saying, thanks to them , they helped other NGO.

  23. When putting a commercial like that on Super bowl day, this day is the day where many people around the United States population will be watching the game, So it is really important for advertisers to take in consideration no racial profiling or using different cultures to make the commercial funny and make people laugh. I believe that it is not a smart thing to do. It is nice from Groupon to apologize after they presented the commercial to everybody.

    I totally agree with Poria, that whatever commercial is established there will always be people of criticism.

  24. Wow..this commercial would offend me too. All I see is a white guy saying, hey people of Tibet are having problems, but don’t you worry they make great cheap food. Looks like these guys forgot to do a little research to truly realize the hardships these people are going through. I think a little inconsiderable and unethical to take someone else’s problem and turn it into your benefit……
    And if the CEO had to explain what the commercial actually meant, its a red flag that they failed.

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