The innovative group-buying website Groupon placed a high- stakes bet on the Superbowl with their series of controversial advertisements that were pulled from the air last Friday. The commercials featured spoofs of celebrity do-gooders that were used to compare injustice in Tibet to a deal on fish curry, deforestation to a cheap bikini wax and endangered whales to a bargain Caribbean cruise. The commercials were part of Groupon’s “Save the Money” campaign to raise awareness and funds for charities who support the causes. While Groupon’s intentions were admirable, its campaign execution failed as the company neglected to include the SaveTheMoney.org URL in the advertisements, leaving many viewers confused and angry. It seems that there are a couple important marketing lessons to be learned from the Groupon Superbowl fumble:
1. Clear-cut messages are a must: If the viewer has to dig for the message, consider it a dud. Without any indication that Groupon had joined forces with charities to raise money, it appeared that the company was mocking important world causes to make a quick buck. It should have been a no-brainer for Groupon to include the SaveTheMoney.com URL in the commercials; a simple move that likely would have prevented the sticky mess the company found itself in.
2. Clever is as clever does: The Superbowl is the most-watched television event of the whole year and is infamous for two things: Football and clever commercials. I would argue that the commercials are even more hyped up than the actual football game. Social media and blog fanatics have continued talking about the controversy surrounding Motorola’s and Pepsi’s Superbowl ads, but do you still hear any chatter about who won the game? It seems to me that Groupon got caught up in the frenzy to create a bold first-time Superbowl commercial and didn’t consider how the audience would react to the message. The political crisis in Tibet is no laughing matter and as communication consultant Liz Strauss pointed out, “Clever isn’t clever when it offends.” The reaction on Twitter was much the same:
Groupon probably would have come under less fire if they had included the SaveTheMoney.com URL in the ads, but would the trivialization of world injustice still be criticized as tasteless and offensive? Groupon argued that in spite of unintentionally offending viewers, the ads raised awareness of critical world issues.
What’s your take on the Groupon controversy?