Opinion Brief

Groupon's 'tasteless' Super Bowl ad: Smart move?

Critics (and tweeters) slammed Groupon's controversial Tibet spot. But is the fact that we're still talking about it three days later proof that it worked?

Groupon, the online coupon firm, has been savaged for airing a series of Super Bowl commercials that spoofed humanitarian concerns. In the most groused-about spot (watch it below), actor Timothy Hutton soberly highlights the plight of the Tibetan people — before glibly noting that they "still whip up an amazing fish curry," which Groupon users can enjoy for a special price. On the Groupon blog, CEO Andrew Mason said the goal was to "make fun of ourselves," not to trivialize the causes. Meanwhile, branding experts said the outcry could give Groupon a massive boost in name recognition. Is such negative attention actually good publicity?

Groupon got what it wanted: The coupon company will likely see an increase in brand recognition for quite some time, says branding expert Michael Gury, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal. Groupon "could get a six month buzz" out of the "stunt.""Groupon brand awareness to linger as long as ad controversy?"

But not all publicity is good publicity: There's a kind of "trend" in advertising at the moment, says Adrian Ott at Fast Company. Companies "generate buzz through tasteless, shocking blunders," then apologize once they have everyone's attention. But it's still unclear whether "the buzz will build positive, authentic brand equity and sales." You got customers' attention, Groupon. But no one likes you."Mea culpa marketing: were Groupon's gaffes intentional?" 

The furor will pass: While the ads were definitely offensive, says Frank Reed at Marketing Pilgrim, "I don't know if this will ultimately hurt Groupon." For one thing, "people have short memories," and for another, "they want to get deals." It seems it's mostly the marketing industry that's "in a tizzy" about this. My take? "This will blow over."
"Since everyone else is yammering on about Groupon..."

Good ad. Bad timing: The real problem with the Groupon ad was "the stage on which it was presented," says Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times. The Super Bowl is no place for nuanced irony or self-mockery. "It's a world where shots to the crotch and chimps in suits reign." If the ad had run during "The Daily Show," no one would have batted an eyelid. "Roeper: Why Groupon ad struck such an off-chord"

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