During one of the Super Bowl’s many commercial breaks on Sunday, viewers were treated to a string of controversial ads from Groupon, the two-year-old group buying startup that has been raking in cash from investors (and customers).
Groupon brought in This is Spinal Tap director Christopher Guest to direct four spots that juxtaposed celebrities and socially or environmentally conscious causes against tangentially related cut-rate deals that can be found on Groupon. In one spot, Elizabeth Hurley addressed the issue of the destruction of the Brazilian rainforests, and then began hawking 50% of Brazilian waxes. In another, Cuba Gooding Jr. encouraged viewers to save the wales, and then pitched a wale watching cruise.
The spots have been taking a lot of hits from critics who say the ads were insensitive and made light of issues that demanded more serious discussion. The most panned one featured Timothy Hutton speaking out against the oppression of the Tibetan people, and then advertising a deal on fish curry at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago.
Everything PR labelled the ad the Super Bowl’s lamest, a Wall Street Journal columnist said the ad could hurt any effort by Groupon to expand into the Chinese market, and the Chicago Tribune said Groupon was offering a discount on sensitivity.
Social media wasn’t any friendlier, with Twitter users saying things such as “Dear @Groupon – over a million Tibetans have been killed during Chinese occupation. Your ad wasn’t funny,” and the pocket-book slapping “Word on the street is @GroupOn is now valued at $2.50 after the #sb45 backlash. They should have taken the $6 billion!” Commenters on Groupon’s blog also threatened to abandon their accounts.
To be fair, this was Groupon’s first non-online campaign, and campaign’s “Save the Money” web page also features links where users can donate to support the causes mentioned in the ads. Three of the spots aired Sunday, while a fourth featuring Cheryl Crow will be posted online later.
And for your viewing pleasure, here are the three that aired: