Before taking sides over Groupon’s Super Bowl commercial, maybe we should take stock.

February 9, 2011

Making fun of monks may not be very zen but it is intrusive.

We’ve all seen the commercial, the one where Tim Hutton has dinner at Tibet’s expense. If you didn’t catch it on the Super Bowl (all three of you) then you most certainly read about it EVERYWHERE. The damn thing made the front page in all the papers. Conan did a skit. Bloggers went bonkers. Children cried! And now even I am putting in my two cents.

My opinion: Yes, it was crass. But crassness is why it was so intrusive. And intrusive is something advertisers want to be, especially those seeking marketing communications from a certain shop in Boulder Colorado. CP&B promises fame for its clients. Period. And fame is what they delivered.

Groupon is now covering its tracks claiming that consumers didn’t see the big picture; that, in fact, they are a socially aware company. That the causes they make fun of are actually near and dear to their hearts. That if one looks on their website one will find links to charities sponsoring the very causes they poke fun at. This morning, I read they are also “tweaking” the commercials so that all this ‘goodness’ becomes clearer to the consumer. Then I read they are pulling some or all of the work from air. What next: A mea culpa from the CEO?

Too late. The spot ran on the Super Bowl and that means it is part of history. Better said, it made history. Therefore, it did what it was supposed to do. Agency CP&B made yet another client more famous than they were before contracting them. No easy feat if you’re Groupon.

And it wasn’t the first time they’ve done so using shock and awe. Remember Crispin’s campaign for VW, which horrifyingly dramatized car crashes? Or when they gave Whoppers to poor people in third world countries? CP&B pushes buttons other agencies (and their clients) don’t, won’t and can’t. It’s their M.O. And they fearlessly stick to it.

And Groupon knew it. Why else would they have contacted them? They wanted dynamite and they got it. In my opinion, for them to pretend the collateral damage was wholly unintended is more offensive than the commercials.

And while King Consumer can react to the work as he or she pleases, we in Adland should think hard before throwing stones. Emulating CP&B has long been a silent mandate in many creative departments. This could be one of those teachable moments for all of us. Knock it off or lighten up. But before taking sides, take stock.

Something else. Alex Bogusky left his namesake agency for personal reasons. Once, he was their creative leader and conscience but that same conscience directed him elsewhere. A higher calling, if you will. He is now fronting a socially aware brand of capitalism called “Common.” Could it be Alex wearied of creating drama reckless of his moral compass? I would love his take on the Groupon campaign. Wouldn’t you?

Update: I had the spot posted above but it was yanked from You Tube, ergo the Tibetan flag…


24 Responses to “Before taking sides over Groupon’s Super Bowl commercial, maybe we should take stock.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by brad meyers, Steffan Postaer, Tanya Bechara, David Eiben13, Breaking Copy and others. Breaking Copy said: RT @Steffan1: Before taking sides over Groupon’s Super Bowl commercial, maybe we should take stock. […]

  2. Jason said

    There were 3 ads in the campaign, the ad chosen to run during the Superbowl, Tibet, was clearly chosen because it was the most controversial. Sure, people would get upset over diminishing whales, and deforestation – but neither would’ve garnered the headline “The Groupon SuperBowl Ad debate: Day 3” All the ads are funny. If you hate them donate to the causes. But the fact you’re still talking about them means they were both effective and briliant.

  3. Jeff Jones said

    Yeah, what would Alex do? I can see the bracelet…

  4. Steffan. While I agree Crispin got Groupon attention, what they didn’t do was convert that attention to significant numbers of new customers. Now I know it’s only a couple of days after the fact, but only 50,000 people signed up in the days after the spot aired on the SB. That’s a lousy conversion rate considering over 111 million people saw the spot and there’s no cost to enroll.

    The job of advertising is to sell products. Getting noticed at the expense of selling is borderline malpractice.


      I’m a Groupon member. After seeing the Superbowl ads, I am no longer a Groupon member. The ads were effective.

  5. gonutzucla said

    VW crashes are one thing. Those were great spots and made a great product benefit point. Making light of an actual problem – human rights – and then making light of it is another. I don’t get easily offended, but these spots were horrible. And it doesn’t take too many viewings of the roughcut to know that these spots would bomb. Check out AdFreak and the poll they did off of social media comments with likes and dislikes – Groupon is dead last. It was the most disliked commercial in the SB. Was this money well spent? Finally, a lot of the reaction from consumers who have used this service has been to leave Groupon, or to ignore it all together in terms of a product to use. So I don’t see how any of their ads were of any benefit, whether viral, or for publicity, or whatever. A few days from now they will drop out of the conversation. Then what? The goal of any advertiser is to increase traffic and business. From all accounts that I’ve read, this was a MASSIVE FAIL.

  6. well said SP! my music company scored the cuba gooding “whales” spot so i had a preview of the hutton spot. i never imagined the hoopla. now they’ve pulled “tibet” and that’s certain to keep the riot going. to be sure Groupon will demand more of the same “cause a commotion” on their next round! i love this biz!

  7. Michael D said

    S –
    Garnering attention at the expense of the human, the humane, humanity? Sorry, but the strategy(!?) behind that is beyond lame. Btw, I’m not a newbie in this business. Probably nearing 20 yrs.

  8. Madison said

    Tibet and dolphins are causes almost anybody can get behind. They are also relatively safe to make fun of…if they wanted REAL publicity, they should have offered discounts on food in Park 51 cafeteria

  9. Conscious Bogusky? said

    I have a lot of respect for Alex Bogusky and dig the new projects he’s involved in. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and claim he was the “conscience” of advertising.

    Bugusky had no problems spending many years encouraging fat Americans to become more fat with BK, Sprite, and Dominoes. It is absolutely the consumer’s choice to eat fast food, but let’s not act like Bogusky is some kind of saint.

    Also, those in the know know that CPB’s creative rise included campaigns stolen from Miami Ad School students and other forms of plagiarism. All presided over by AB.

    Again, kudos to Alex for a spectacular ad career and godspeed to his new efforts. But “conscience of CPB” is a stretch.

  10. brian said

    They missed on this one. This spot made Groupon look like an insensitive company.

  11. […] Postaer, the former chairman and chief creative officer of EuroRSCG Chicago, wrote on his Gods of Advertising blog that “making fun of monks may not be very zen but it is ….  And, although the Tibet ad was crass,” Postaer wrote, “intrusive is something […]

  12. Actually, I’ll go on record to say that I Like The Tibet Ad. Note the present tense: I have not shrunk back from my initial reaction which I tweeted @larrymannino (damn, I hate that word) during the game. The spot was tight, it pulled you in, the pacing was spot on, they pulled the rug out and you thought about the product or company.

    That said, I have encountered this general, dare I say somewhat ‘artificial’, disgust from some of my peers – and yes, we’re all in the industry. Personally, I don’t bow at the altar of CP&B, but I do like a good portion of the work I’ve seen from them and it is without question effective, much as was mentioned above.

    I do wonder whether or not offense and poutrage was part of the careful strategy here: the agency is not new to this sort of thing. It seems to me that the loudest complainers here (at least the ones I’ve actually spoken with), are largely those who fall into the category of people who might consider Tibet as an exotic locale for a vacation so they could brag to their friends, and not necessarily those who have actually been involved in the actual cause (which is indeed a real and tragic situation).

    Allow me, if you will, to paint a quick picture of the typical ‘offended viewer’ whom I have encountered: pretty much upper-middle class (or higher), externally politically correct (with no credible day-to-day evidence of these viewpoints beyond lip service) people.

    In short, they took offense at a clever ad that involved the very real and ongoing plight of the Tibetan people from the cushions of a couch manufactured in Vietnam, while eating snacks bought from underpaid workers at WalMart while watching this ‘horrible atrocity’ on a 50″ widescreen HDTV manufactured in…China!

    Oh, the huge manatee.

    • SRP said

      Whether one agrees with you or not, this is one of the best comments on the string.
      I read it while eating curry at my fancy health club 😉


      Thanks for generalizing about the hypocrisy present in our world. You get a gold star.

      As for me, I watched the ads days later on my computer at work. Not being a fan of football, but interested in the cultural touchstone that the superbowl ads can act as.

      I was a Groupon member. After viewing the ads, I am no longer a Groupon member.

      Good job CPB!

  13. rps said

    Intrusive is why the DVR has grown in popularity so quickly.

  14. magwep said

    Commercial is posted here:

    Is that tweaked?

  15. […] So what exactly makes VW, as opposed to say GoDaddy, so much more effective? Perhaps it’s because they actually choose to empower the every-kid rather than crass humor and sex. Maybe we actually respond better to ads that reinforce the good impulses in us rather than our appetites. Maybe ads tailored to a wider audience, adults, kids, teens—families—are the ones that really succeed. But some of the major commercial ad agencies don’t seem to share that view. About Groupon’s ad Steffan Postaer, major big-wig at EuroRSCG Chicago, said: […]

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