Groupon fucked up.
I can't speculate why they did it. Maybe they were forced to quickly develop an ad after they found out LivingSocial was running one. Maybe they seriously thought the ad agency that developed Burger King's Subservient Chicken was the perfect outfit to promote their brand. I dunno.
What I know, however, is that as soon as that Tibet ad for Groupon ran, all hell broke loose on Twitter. I started seeing boycott talk within minutes. Instant outrage.
What happened? Well, if you believe Groupon, they wanted to do something that would promote their brand by mocking people who felt passionately about causes.
Er ... no, that's not right.
No, they wanted to mock themselves. Yeah, that's the ticket. So they did it by making fun of the disappearing rainforest, dying whales, and the suffering of the Tibetan people. Sure, that's a great way to mock yourself.
Well, here, you can read what Groupon's CEO said, in his defense:
Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. Why make fun of ourselves? Because it’s different – ads are traditionally about shameless self promotion, and we’ve always strived to have a more honest and respectful conversation with our customers. We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes – even if we didn’t take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?Got it? So, by trivializing the causes mentioned in the ads, they never meant to trivialize the causes. Sure, that makes sense.
Somehow, Groupon failed to notice that there are still a hell of a lot of us who take those "causes" seriously. I got very excited for a few seconds when the ad started, because I was so impressed that someone had managed to get a political ad running on the Super Bowl. And then Tim Hutton started talking about fish curry, and I realized I'd been tricked. And I got angry. A lot of us got angry.
Groupon has tried to defend themselves by noting that they started out as a "cause-based website," and therefore ... something. Therefore, they get why cause marketing is so important? Therefore, they never gave a fuck about those goddamn causes in the first place? It's hard to take them at their word when their own community forum has this lovely message from one of their staffers:
Cause-marketers bombard us with celebrity endorsements, emotional pleas and percentage-based models that passively generate donations without converting champions around the issue.(I will note that there was a much more offensive version of this message posted earlier by someone named Patty H. That message said something about "manipulating people into giving." I should have taken a screenshot. That message has since been deleted.)
Hey, thanks for making all of us fundraisers in the nonprofit world look like assholes! I made my money for several years doing grassroots fundraising - oh, excuse me, bombarding people with emotional pleas.
Groupon also says that they're all about raising money for these important causes. That's why you saw a link to a major Tibetan NGO during the Tim Hutton ad. Oh, wait, you didn't. Whoopsie!
Groupon is getting slammed for these tasteless and heartless ads, and they deserve every bit of it. Look at their community forums. Every thread that tries to promote the "cause marketing" side of these ads is being bombarded by angry users and angry ex-users.
It is important to care about causes. The world changes when people stop thinking about their own lives and begin focusing on larger causes - like the Nazi holocaust, like the oppression of African Americans in this country, like the environment, like global warming. Groupon made a huge mistake in assuming that they could use serious causes as a backdrop for a cynical ad campaign.
So now they're apologizing. Fine. I'm not satisfied. I want to see some serious penance. Want to make up for this? Start running some serious prime-time ads promoting the people of Tibet, protection of the rainforest, and saving those whales that you don't seem to give a fuck about. Start writing your own checks to important causes, not just collecting donations while you rake in record profits. You want to show us that causes matter to you? Prove it.