Groupon Digs the Hole Deeper

It’s been a little more than 24 hours since Groupon aired the most offensive advertising campaign in history, and the company’s response to the outpouring of negative commentary has been a textbook example of how not to handle a crisis.

The Groupon ads, which were intended to be parodies, used celebrities to stage mock public service announcements that ended in pitches for Groupon’s coupon service. In the day since the ads were aired, we’ve learned that the messages were intended to raise awareness of the causes that were mentioned and to stimulate giving to those charities. Too bad Groupon didn’t mention any of those noble goals in the commercials themselves.

I haven’t conducted a scientific analysis, but in monitoring the mainstream media coverage as well as the chatter on Twitter and Facebook today, it appeared to me that commentary was running about 80% negative on the campaign. As of this writing, there are more than 300 comments on the blog entry CEO Andrew Mason posted just before the ads debuted, the vast majority of them critical.

Mason finally posted a response to the outpouring of commentary today. Rather than admitting that the campaign was a failure, he attempted to defend it. “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.”

Actually, when I think about commercials that offend me, the image of Timothy Hutton using the suffering of the Tibetan people to sell direct marketing services will forever remain etched upon my mind. Andrew, you set a high-water mark for offensiveness. You’ve made the GoDaddy ads look like Dr. Seuss by comparison.

Mason goes on to explain why the ads are clever and innovative. Unfortunately, anyone knows that it’s pointless to explain a joke. If people don’t get the joke in the first place, then attempting to tell people why it’s funny just looks pathetic at best and arrogant at worst.

I don’t know who counsels Groupon about public relations. Its press releases cite Julie Mossler, who appears to be an employee, as the contact. This company clearly needs some help in crisis communications, though. Any experienced counsel would tell Groupon to apologize, make good with its critics and put this problem behind it as quickly as possible.

However, Groupon appears to be committed to moving ahead with this campaign. It’s tweaking the endings of the ads to make the tie-ins to charities clearer, and I suppose that helps a little. But it doesn’t change that fact that this campaign is tasteless, unfunny and now only borderline offensive.  It is vaguely reminiscent of the Pets.com sock-puppet ads of the late 90s, the difference being that the sock puppet was at least amusing. These ads aren’t, and Groupon would be well advised to run screaming from them as quickly as possible.

Here’s another thigh-slapper from the video series for your amusement. Deforestation is a great tie-in to product discounts.

5 thoughts on “Groupon Digs the Hole Deeper

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Groupon Digs the Hole Deeper | paulgillin.com -- Topsy.com

  2. 80% negative commentary…that adds up! About 80% of Americans are either overly sensitive, wouldn’t recognize a clever jab if it was thrust into their side, love spewing self-righteous, didactic condescension and are generally too quick to consider the long term effect of this campaign…we’re talking about the rainforest and the political suppression and brutal repression of Tibetans at the hand of the Chinese…this conversation NEVER would have happened on this scale without Groupon’s “tasteless” advertising campaign. So I suppose bland and inoffensive is the way to go to spark some degree of awareness? The 80% needs to go jump in a lake!

  3. Paul, I couldn’t agree with you more. Wrote as much on my blog at http://bit.ly/groupwayoff (and just referenced there this post of yours). It’s about context: if those spots were Saturday Night Live parody ads, they might have worked, all at once pointing out the lowered levels of crass commercialism and advertising; the hypocrisy of both a company that would trade on people’s struggles and causes to garner more business; skewering such a company’s customers and a culture that would laugh at those causes and merrily buy into the company’s products or services; while serving up a jab of guilt. When the context of those messages is that of being delivered BY the company in an actual commercial – not a parody – asking you to buy their stuff, it’s just crass, tasteless, and disprectful – no matter how much Groupon wants to donate to those causes or how much other people’s sensitivities (or lack of) don’t enable them to see the difference. Good post.

  4. It’s astonishing that this ad concept ever got through the agency creative guys and the various approval process and viewer panels. But since it did, I agree that Groupon now needs to admit their mistake and run for cover.

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