I was kind of sad to learn that Christopher Guest directed the Groupon ads during the Super Bowl.
For those of you not keeping up at home, Groupon hired mid-tier celebrities to begin a commercial seemingly earnestly pleading about an issue that draws charitable contributions or is a social issue. Its a staple of Super Bowl advertising (see last year's Haitian relief effort). But about half-way through the ad, the celebrity would basically laugh, say "F That!" and explain how instead of getting together to help, say, the whales, you should work together via Groupon to save money on extravagances for yourself.
Groupon works, I guess, by getting people to use social media to figure out that if, say, 50 people by a coupon from Groupon, they can all get, say, a pedicure for half off.
Groupon spent Monday online figuring out that, apparently, some people didn't find this approach funny.
And they really missed the part where, supposedly, Groupon was actually pleading for people to help the whales, the struggle in Tibet, etc... Which, apparently, they thought they were doing.
Except for the part, of course, where they told you "ha ha! @#$% those guys! Let's rent a party boat!".
I'm guessing a few assumptions were made:
1) 30 seconds is a lot longer than it actually is
2) People are actually engaging with your ad and trying to decipher what it is you're subliminally trying to get them to do
3) Lots of people already understand the model of Groupon - they do not
4) Anybody outside of the Groupon company was aware of their past as a company that developed similar technology for non-profits and charities - this has been a big part of their justification (that's some serious @#$%ing hubris, right there)
5) People find making fun of fairly serious issues hilarious - they do not
6) People actually notice what ads are for on a first viewing - again, they do not
Supposedly Groupon actually believed that making fun of these issues was highlighting the issue in question
. Which kind of makes me think nobody at Groupon has ever watched how advertising works during football games. Football games are where commercials still make fun of people in glasses* and "regular guys" take pride in not knowing shit and believe that "cold" is somehow brewed into beer. Seeing an ad that mocks not just a cause but the sort of jerk who would want to support a cause
(you know, that guy in the sweater you know is somehow threatening and it just makes you want to smash his stupid face?) is not outside the realm of what happens during gametime every Sunday.
Did Groupon know this? Maaaaaybe. Picking real causes tells me they didn't think about it a whole lot.
You can't help but think a winking disclaimer and a URL to go donate NOW would have saved them a world of explaining. I went to college. Heck, I went to TV COLLEGE. And I still just thought: "wow, these guys at Groupon are incredible jerks.**" Maybe the hosting I was doing and cooking of burgers distracted me too much from looking at the screen, and getting it
, but "wow, these Groupon guys are incredible jerks" does not make me turn away from my guests, pick up the laptop and check out their product to learn their secret agenda for philanthropy via a dickish Timothy Hutton.
And maybe shame on me for thinking that Groupon might think that way, but have you been watching cable news lately? Or looked at the internet? A LOT of people seem to think its every American's duty to go out and buy a new hot tub before making sure kids get fed or learn how to read. Seeing someone jump on the "yeah, @#$% those guys" attitude seen in public discourse, news analysis, governmental budget cutting and what people seem to want their legislators to do... to further their business goals? Of course I think someone is going to incorporate that sentiment into their marketing sooner or later.
And, no, I don't know anything about Groupon, so why not
In the CEO's blogpost
, while kind of apologizing, he goes on to suggest that what they were doing was obvious (ie: it wasn't that we weren't funny or the gag flopped, its that you weren't clever enough to get it). Which... yes, you have to do some spin doctoring, but fer chrissake... Just apologize, admit your ads sucked, sue somebody, and get on with it.
*correction, they make fun of men in glasses. Any woman in glasses in an ad during a football game is a sex machine gone incognito
**I did not use the word "jerks"