Groupon Defeated in Super Bowl: CEO Apologizes, Pulls All TV Commercials

Groupon has made the drastic decision to pull its entire advertising campaign, following its multimillion-dollar push during the Super Bowl.

The decision was announced on the company’s blog and included an apology from the company’s CEO Andrew Mason: “We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did–it’s the last thing we wanted.”

The company had previously made the decision to discontinue the spot that aired during the game’s third quarter after complaints lit up the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The ad featured Timothy Hutton, who talks about how the Tibetan culture is in jeopardy. “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry, and since 200 of us bought at, we’re each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15…in Chicago.” In other commercials, Cuba Gooding Jr. saves half on a whale-watching expedition, and Elizabeth Hurley pays half for a bikini wax after talking about deforestation in Brazil.

Viewers were offended, believing that Groupon was exploiting, and making light of, three serious issues.

The ads weren’t entirely a stretch for the Chicago-based company, which considers itself quirky and injects humor into everything it does–from corporate blog posts to the deal of the day.

Recently, it appointed a new high-level executive, and in the announcement also mentioned that it had hired a guy in charge of stocking Diet Coke and Vitamin Water drinks in its four-story Chicago headquarters. The aspiring actor gave out his email address, in case anyone could help him get some gigs. No offense to Jason Harinstein, the SVP of corporate development, who left his job at Google for the company, right?

So, maybe Groupon’s decision to use humor in its big coming-out party–an introduction to every American who didn’t already know the company and what it is all about–was lost in translation.

“Five days have passed since the Super Bowl, and one thing is clear–our ads offended a lot of people. Tuesday I posted an explanation, but as many of you have pointed out, if an ad requires an explanation, that means it didn’t work,” Mason concluded.

A few ads may still run today, but after that they will be gone for good. “I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision,” he continued.

Groupon still expects to raise about $500,000 for the charities that were associated with each commercial. But the message that Groupon also had good intentions was lost in the TV ads when the charities weren’t ever mentioned.

There’s a chance that some of its 50 million subscribers were so upset they canceled their daily emails, but there’s likely an equal chance that the conversation–as negative as it was–provided additional lift and awareness to the brand.

Mason said, however, that wasn’t the intention. “We certainly aren’t trying to be the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy–we think the quality of our product is a much stronger message.”

Experian Hitwise reports that the day after the Super Bowl, Groupon’s Web site did receive a huge surge, with traffic jumping to 1.145 million visits, a 78 percent jump from just 641,000 a week earlier.

We asked the question before the Super Bowl whether Groupon’s appearance would be a touchdown or a fumble.

Having to pull your commercials not even a week later probably qualifies at least as a penalty.

But don’t be fooled, Groupon can still come back and win the game.

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