February 7, 2011

Groupon Finds Criticism After Running Super Bowl Ad

Internet start-up Groupon faced outrage Monday for running a Super Bowl advertisement on Sunday that highlighted Tibet's woes to promote the online bargain site.

The commercial during the game opens with mountain scenes set to a melancholy flute and the words, "The people of Tibet are in trouble.  Their culture is in jeopardy."

Actor Timothy Hutton then said, "But they still whip up an amazing fish curry," and explains how he used Groupon for a discount at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago.

The ad set off furious messages on micro-blogging site Twitter.

"Groupon's Tibet commercial was so appalling it made me cancel their daily email; it turned a vague dislike into enmity," Tad Friend, a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, wrote on the micro-blogging service.

Musician Paco Mahone of Pittsburgh said:  "Glad I never heard of Groupon and glad I will never use them after that horrible Super Bowl commercial."

The Huffington Post polled users and found that about 45 percent of viewers found the advertisement "completely inappropriate" and many more were somewhat taken aback.

Rohit Bhargava, who blogs about marketing, tweeted: "Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3 (million) to lose customers who previously loved them."

Groupon has grown rapidly since its inception in 2008 and it has acknowledged a "peculiar taste in humor" but said it supported Tibetan causes.

The Chicago-based company said it was matching donations of up to $100,000 to three charities including the Tibet Fund, which supports jobs for Tibetan refugees.

The company said when explaining the joke that its founders started in the world of philanthropy but have "ended up selling coupons."

"We loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause," the company said in a blog post.

Tibetans are not known for eating seafood as well because the Himalayan territory is far from the ocean.

The Groupon advertisement came days after fashion designer Kenneth Cole got a harsh dressing down for posting a message on Twitter that played on the turmoil in Egypt to promote his latest fashion line.

Cole later apologized for his tweet, saying it was an "insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt."


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