If you watched Super Bowl XLV, you might have seen this commercial from groupon.com:
This commercial immediately caused a backlash on the net. As you can see, the commercial starts off like a PSA about the culture of Tibet under threat, and then switches gears to let the audience know that they can still save money on their amazing fish curry. And you can do that by using Groupon!
First, it should be noted that Groupon contributes to charities like the Tibet Fund and Rainforest Action Network. They have a donate page here. In Groupon’s blog about the ads, they mention using ad firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and explains the concept behind the ad campaign this way:
When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause, but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself?
CEO Andrew Mason thinks that the company was poking fun at itself by treating discounts as a “noble cause.” The idea, I gather, is to get more customers for groupon and at the same time contribute to a good cause (Tibet, rainforest, etc). He probably thought that in this way, everybody wins.
The reason why the groupon Tibet super bowl ad failed is because Mason doesn’t really understand that most people will see the commercial as anti-American above everything else. The ad isn’t making fun of Groupon, it’s making fun of us for being shallow assholes who wouldn’t normally be interested in the plight of the Tibetan people unless there was something in it for us – namely, discounts on the stuff we buy. It’s like no American would ever be charitable or care about other cultures in trouble unless he could save money on the deal somehow.
Now, it’s possible that Mason could be correct about that. I won’t argue for or against the point. But what he underestimates about America is its vanity. No matter what we really do in our day to day activities, we want to feel good about ourselves, and we want to think of ourselves as a force for good. The Groupon ad makes us think that we’re just a bunch of greedy jerks. Not to mention the fact that it makes light of a serious matter by comparing it to saving money at a Himalayan restaurant.
Time to fire your creative team, Andrew.