If you watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, you probably caught Groupon’s ad featuring Timothy Hutton. If not, you can watch it here. I try not to take myself, or anyone else for that matter, too seriously. Sometimes, however, something like this will strike a nerve.
I kind of see what Groupon did here, but it took me a little while to get there. They were loosely poking fun at our supposed desire to save money and how it trumps our desire to help people. I get that, but the fact remains that they bothered me and a whole lot of other people.
Let’s look at some stuff they did wrong on both a human decency and a marketing level.
They Poked Fun at a Serious Injustice
We can sit here in our relatively safe environment and enjoy our creature comforts; turning a blind eye to real injustice across the world. The fact remains, however, that an entire group of people have lived under brutal oppression for over 60 years.
What if we weren’t protected by our laws and we lived under a tyrannical occupying government? What if your college-aged children went to a liberation rally and were beaten, dragged off, and tortured to death? Would you appreciate a TV ad making light of that?
They Insulted an Entire Group of People
We were lured in by images of Tibetan children and allusions to the Tibetan culture. When we thought we would catch a little more insight, we were hit with a statement that reduced their cultural worth down to the ability to ‘whip up a mean fish curry.’
And we wonder why people think Americans are arrogant?
They Made Us Feel Like Selfish Brats
There is a difference between conviction and guilt. A evocative and inspiring ad spotlighting the need for change in Tibet would raise a sense of conviction in even the most hard-hearted person. All this commercial did was broadcast the following message:
“This world is broken and people are suffering, but we don’t really care. What we really care about is saving 50% off dinner tonight.”
Congratulations on shaming me in my own home, Groupon.
They Expected Us to ‘Get It’
After some digging, I found a blog post from Groupon explaining themselves. They offer these ads on their blog with a link to donate to charities that address the needs displayed in each of their irreverent ads. They’re even offering to match funds.
I get it now, but its too late. I already sat on my couch and shook my head. I already felt the pain of looking in and realizing that I don’t do enough. A good friend could speak that truth into my life and I would love them for it.
But not you, Groupon. I don’t know you and you don’t know me.
An ensuing argument. People who dislike Groupon’s poor taste vs. people who aren’t offended by it. A swirl of negative conversation has begun and will probably continue for some time. The underlying idea: ‘all PR is good PR.’
I’m no PR pro, but I don’t think I would want the conversation surrounding my brand to be an argument about whether I’m a jerk or not. If I were Groupon, I’d want people to know us for helping the people of Tibet. Not for making a joke out of their suffering.
What do you think? Am I being too serious?