Under attack for their Tibet Super Bowl commercial, Groupon has stepped into the defensive mode, asserting that it takes the social causes highlighted in its series of 'Save the Money' ads extremely seriously.
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? Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason wrote on the company blog.
The commercial in question aired on Super Bowl Sunday. As images of Tibet were shown, actor Timothy Hutton read, The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy. The scene cuts to Hutton inside a restaurant being served food: But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought at groupon.com we're each getting 30 dollars worth of Tibetan food for just 15 dollars at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.
The ad angered scores of Americans, who found it distasteful and trivializing the serious issue of human rights violations in Tibet. People aware of how the Tibetan culture was being destroyed in the conflict with China felt that struggles of Tibet deserved respect and seriousness. The portrayal of the message also invited harsh comments as the ad seemed to be poking fun at charity. Criticism poured in on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Groupon has now come out to say that if it was making fun of anything at all it was the company itself.
Making his case for the controversial Super Bowl ad, Mason said, Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. Why make fun of ourselves? Because it's different - ads are traditionally about shameless self promotion, and we've always strived to have a more honest and respectful conversation with our customers.
Interestingly this stance is close to the strategy of the advertising firm behind Groupon's 'Save the Money' campaign, Crispin Porter & Bogusky. The firm has a long history of creating ads that have raised eyebrows. In the past, CP+B has also admitted that it strongly bets on negative responses from viewers.
In the company blog, Mason also attacked other ads that aired during Super Bowl XLV, saying, 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. Not a single person watched our ad and concluded that it's cool to kill whales. In fact - and this is part of the reason we ran them - they have the opposite effect.
Groupon's 'Save the Money' microsite contains all the ads featuring celebrities solemnly speaking about a serious issue. Money is one of our most important natural resources. Sadly, thousands of dollars are wasted every year. Until now, the statement on the page reads.
While Hutton's Tibet ad was made for The Tibet Fund, Cuba Gooding Jr. speaks for Greenpeace's efforts towards saving the whales, Actress Elizabeth Hurley speaks for Rainforest Action Network, Musician Sheryl Crow speaks for buildOn.
Although Groupon's response to the Tibet ad row came in a tad late, Greenpeace had already blogged about Groupon's initiative.
Greenpeace is happily participating in the campaign. The truth is that the 'Save the Money' campaign and the commercial are really helping us save the whales, Greenpeace's John Hocevar said in a blog post.
Also backing what the Groupon CEO would later come to write in defense of the company's Super Bowl ad, the Greenpeace post stated, they loved the idea of poking fun at themselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause.
Both the blogs end on a hopeful note that the ads have affected the audiences enough to get them to donate. Groupon is collecting donations from individuals to help organizations such as Greenpeace and buildOn. People can purchase a $15 Groupon and Groupon will match that by giving back $15 in credit.