Loathing Groupon for Thrusting the Truth Upon Us

Much has been said about Groupon‘s questionable ads that ran during the Super Bowl. It’s reached a point that Groupon pulled the ads and CEO Andrew Mason apologized for making people feel bad. Yet, little has been said about why the ads invoked such visceral reactions other than change maker Stacey Monk’s spot-on reflection. Frankly, we hated Groupon’s ads because they showed Americans our true nature.

Specifically, the United States as a country gives nonprofits a lot of lip service, but when push comes to shove, we fail to change. Consider all of the talk about environmentalism, yet America still consumes more than any country in the world. We fail to act, and though we emote, our collective actions as a society are demonstrative of a deeper apathy.

Groupon thrust our hypocrisy into our faces, and we responded with wrath. We eat Tibetan food, instead of taking action for Tibet, or a Brazilian wax instead of helping the rain forest, or a ticket to a water amusement park instead of helping to save the whales. Think about it. We talk mindfulness while we walk vain consumption.

“We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through,” said Mason. “I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads… To those who were offended, I feel terrible that we made you feel bad.”


Were the ads well executed? To create this kind of visceral reaction, the ads hit home harder than anyone at Groupon or their agency imagined. The joke fell flat, and the message felt like a punch in the gut. In that sense, yes, the ads were in poor taste. But the message remains.

The blogodrama should end with Groupon’s apology and pulling of the ads. Now it’s time for the crowd to look deeply within to understand why it became so enraged. Compassion means more than idle conversations.

Side Note

Kudos to Chrysler and Eminem for an incredible advertisement that reinvigorated spirit into Detroit, an economically ravaged city. Some Super Bowl ads do hit the mark.


  • Whether we’re hypocrites or not (we are), was it appropriate to use Tibetan causes to promote a for-profit business? That’s what bothered me… felt like a more planned out Kenneth Cole Twitter Egypt moment to me.

    I don’t deny that we’re hypocrites as a whole, your point is on — but that doesn’t make the use of a tragedy to promote a profit any better. (Btw, kudos for managing to work in a reference to Brazilian waxing and comparing it to rainforest preservation somehow. I am in awe.) ;-)

    • Heh, you can thank the Brazilian reference to the Groupon/Elizabeth Hurley ad featured in this post. As an environmentalist, I found this ad of the four to be most shocking, followed by the Cuba Gooding ad. There’s no doubt that from a call to action, cause marketing standpoint the ads were poorly executed. There was no obvious link to the cause or donation page. Your points are on target, Chris.

    • 100% agreed Chris! After a couple of days I stopped following the Groupon debacle. Their response for 48 hours after the ads aired was pathetic – links to charities and a blog post by founder, Andrew Mason, explaining the rational behind the ads, and how much they have raised for charities. Sadly he offered no real apology to the people he offended. When your organization messes up, the last thing people want to hear is justifications. Listen, acknowledge and apologize. It’s not rocket science.

  • The Groupon guys have the balls to take epic risks. that’s how they’ve created a $15BN valuation company, with $50M in monthly revenue in 26 months, out of the ashes of ‘the point’.
    What the world needs now, more than ever before are social entrepreneurs, citizen activists, politicians, and business leaders with balls as big as Groupon’s.
    We need to get people to truly engage in the ‘narrative’, and not just make pitiful, feel good donations as a form of conscience cleansing!
    That’s my 2c

    • I agree, Steve. I really think that Groupon should be let off the hook at this point. They did more than most do, even if it was a failed effort. Better to fail than not to try.

      • and they are still benefiting from the continued conversation… kudos to Chrysler for flawless execution, bringing generations together in presenting their brand!

  • I think the worst part for me is the lost opportunity. They partnered with actual causes, but that was not clear in the commercials.

    People do save a lot of money with Groupon – seems fitting they can give a little more. That was not the best execution to make that actionable for people.

    • Absolutely, from a cause marketing standpoint the ad agency in question should be shamed for not including the proper calls to action.

    • AMEN! The fact that they partnered with causes was so hidden that by the time you realized it, you had such a bad taste in your mouth that any halo was negated.

    • AMEN! The fact that they partnered with causes was so hidden that by the time you realized it, you had such a bad taste in your mouth that any halo was negated.

  • Geoff, thanks for these insights- I think you really got to the heart of the specific issue AND the deeper problem.

    On a related note, I was surprised by how the ‘voice’ of the ads failed to translate the voice of Groupon deal email texts– which are themselves “irreverent”, snarky and often rather vulgar — and right up on the edge of the line between funny and awful. I think the #adfail demonstrates how Groupon could no longer manage its own ambivalence towards mindless consumerism in search of a deal.

    • Interesting thesis, CV! Groupon has lost the Faustian battle, and can no longer evade the demands of consumerism. I like it.

  • Good post Geoff,

    Groupon blew it. But the ads should not have been pulled because they were offensive. Pulling them because they did not work and were unfunny is good enough. I’ve written about humor before. It’s never a good idea to put the joke on your customers.

    I do have to question the inclusion of the Chrysler spot, given the context of truth. There is nothing true about the Chrysler ad. It’s a dream people want, but the company cannot deliver. That 200 they are raving about is nothing more than a new Sebring with a facelift and LED lights (as a selling point, if you can imagine). The only winner in that spot was Eminem, who will likely sell more music than the Italian company that owns Chrysler will sell cars. But otherwise, I could never get behind an ad that sells a dream it cannot deliver on.


    • Hee, hee, hee. “Since when has advertising been about telling the truth,” asked Don Draper. Both examples prove him right. Glad I’m not in an advertising agency.

      • Yeah, right. Lately, one wonders. I prefer a different quote … good advertising is the fastest way to kill a bad product.

        • We’ll see how the sales go. Chrysler is not in my first ten options for auto brands :)

          • Yeah, I told my class the same. We’ll see how sales go and whether there is buyer remorse afterward.

            Ironically, our age group and profession responded to the ad the best. But none of us want one. Probably because their average buyer is 62. You know, Eminem fans. Heh.

  • Geoff, you make some interesting points as did Stacey in her post. It is difficult to look within. But don’t ads like these perpetuate hypocrisy rather than challenge it?

    • BTW, this comment is mine. Was working from another computer and it didn’t log in properly.

      • Anon troublemaker. :P

        I am not saying the ad is effective or productive, but I am saying the reason many were pissed off was because it hit way too close to home. You are right, just like the movie Wedding Crashers made fun of sexism, yet perpetuated it.

  • Very well stated. But I agree, it’s over. It’s time to move on. The blogosphere has accomplished its objective and sent a message which appears to have been received. It would be nice, however, if we used that same collective outrage to fund nonprofits. Some take this responsibility seriously. After all, we are able to encourage massive amounts of people to do good things. I think more of us could take up that challenge.

  • It’s always easiest to point and laugh when you’re not looking in a mirror. As a society we tend to be ok with doing little and taking a lot as long as we’re not called out for doing so. Everyone talks about doing the right thing but few really do.

    The Groupon ads exposed society for the greedy, superficial, selfish one it truly is. That stung with a lot of people. One more bowl of Tibetan soup and another Brazilian wax and all will be forgotten. Back into a state of denial until the next big awakening.

    • I love how our country lauds Democracy while we fund autocrats in Pakistan and Egypt, and then when Egyptian revolutionaries stand up we continue to back Mubarak until the very end. Maybe Groupon can do an add on that.

      Groupon’s ads were too effed up, they needed more cause play for it to work. They still delivered a bitter message, a brutally truthful one.

  • The ads were SPECTACULAR.

    MOST Americans wouldn’t know or understand great satire if it hit them in their ample buttocks (and I are one). The ads were also successful, ’cause look what we’re talking about today. Groupon received WAY more notice an publicity than their Superbowl investment.

    Kudos to all involved. Good analysis as well, Geoff.

  • 1) Kudos on the post Geoff;
    2) I loved the Imported From Detroit commercial more than anything else during the entire game.

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