Groupon Backpedals After Viewers Fail to See the Humor and Compassion, Will Pull Super Bowl Ad

Groupon is planning to respond this afternoon to the thousands of people who flooded its Facebook and Twitter channels, and is pulling the most controversial of its Super Bowl commercials, which has led people to accuse the daily deals site of exploiting others for its own good.

The commercials, featuring Cuba Gooding Jr., Elizabeth Hurley and Timothy Hutton, are being compared to Kenneth Cole’s now infamous tweet, which used the Cairo hashtag to publicize its spring shoe collection.

It was Groupon’s commercial featuring Hutton that by far drew the most criticism. UPDATE: The company will shortly announce that it is pulling this ad in particular.

In the 30-second clip, Hutton says that while Tibetan culture is in jeopardy, “they still whip up an amazing fish curry, and since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com, we’re each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15…in Chicago.”

From what we’ve heard, the Chicago-based company doesn’t believe the commercials were misguided, but rather that it made a mistake by not directing folks to a Web site, where it was raising money for certain causes and matching up to $100,000 in donations. The site, SaveTheMoney.org, should have been mentioned in the commerciasl instead of expecting consumers to make the jump on their own from groupon.com to a link on the side of the page.

UPDATE 2: In a blog post today, CEO Andrew Mason tried to address the feedback. “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?”

In a blog post written yesterday, Mason wrote that there’s also a connection between the commercials and the company’s roots.

Groupon was born out of the Point, a Web site that helps organize people to raise money or bring people together for a particular cause. Humor is also second nature, since its daily offers are often lighthearted and written by aspiring comedians.

However, this time, the humor of the commercials, which were directed by mockumentary expert Christopher Guest, was clearly lost.

In the other two ads, Cuba Gooding Jr. saves half on a whale-watching expedition, and Elizabeth Hurley compares deforestation in the Brazilian rain forest to a bikini wax. “Not all deforestation is bad,” she says.

A vast majority of comments on Facebook and Twitter called the ads “classless,” “disappointing” and “disgusting,” and accused Groupon of finding ”cultural genocide hilarious.” Many asked for an apology and are calling people to action by encouraging them to saying no to Groupon and yes to its competitor LivingSocial.

Finding a positive comment on Groupon’s Facebook page is rare. Although it shows that 123 people “like” the commercial, there are 137 comments, mostly negative.

Whether any damage has been done, it’s hard to say–much less quantify. Is Groupon worth less than it was the two days ago (or, heaven forbid, a couple of months ago, when Google was willing to pay $6 billion for the two-year-old company)?

Any publicity is good publicity, right?

Groupon’s Super Bowl ad, which cost $3 million alone to run and even more to produce, has continued to be viewed far after the game, getting passed along on Twitter and Facebook.

That makes it successful from at least one standpoint.

It’s also questionable as to how much of an audience it’s reaching–good or bad. Arguably, it’s still small. According to YouTube, it’s not one of the most-watched Super Bowl ads. Even the Tibetan commercial has only 41,451 views on YouTube, compared with Volkswagen’s promo, which featured a pint-size Darth Vader and received more than 16 million views.

LivingSocial, which had an ad right before kickoff, seems to be registering even less with users. In fact, its Twitter feed is more likely to mention Groupon’s commercial than its own.

However, Groupon is also not the only one using a bit of off-humor. LivingSocial’s tagline was: “LivingSocial changed my life. It could change yours, too.”

In the beginning, it features a bearded, gruff-looking man who says his addiction to getting 50 to 70 percent off started a year ago. At the end, he’s a cross-dresser wearing a red sequined dress with red pumps.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus