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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 12:48 EDT

Groupon Discontinues Controversial Ads

February 12, 2011

Coupon deal-of-the-day site Groupon said it is pulling a series of commercials that first appeared around Super Bowl XLV after critics said they poked fun of Tibet, whales and the Amazon rainforest as if they were unimportant.

Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, announced the decision to no longer show the controversial ads in a blog post on Thursday.

“Five days have passed since the Super Bowl, and one thing is clear — our ads offended a lot of people,” said Mason. “We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did — it’s the last thing we wanted.”

The Tibet ad opened with mountain scenes set to a downhearted flute with the words: “The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their culture is in jeopardy.” And then the ad cuts to Timothy Hutton who quips: “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry,” and then explains how he used Groupon for a discount at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago.

In another Groupon ad, Cuba Gooding Jr. gravely describes the need to save whales from extinction but then says it is “more fun” to go on a whale watching cruise using a deal he got at Groupon.

The third spot featured Elizabeth Hurley talking about the threat to the Amazon Rainforest. She then raves about the “Brazilian wax” deal she got using Groupon, saying “not all deforestation is bad.”

In the future, Groupon will run “less polarizing” ads, said Mason. “We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through.”

“I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads,” Mason said. “While we’ve always been a little quirky, we certainly aren’t trying to be the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy.”

Mason said the company believed the ads would “bring more funding and support to the highlighted causes.” Groupon expects to bring in more than $500,000 for charities including Greenpeace and the Tibet Fund and Mason said the company plans to match up to $100,000 of donations.

Greenpeace biologist John Hocevar — founder of Students for a Free Tibet — blogged on Groupon, saying he supported the ads.

“Greenpeace is happily participating in the campaign,” he blogged. “The truth is that the ‘Save the Money’ campaign and the commercial are really helping us save the whales.”

Several of the company’s spots, which were directed by Best in Show’s Christopher Guest, will continue to air on Friday because they were previously scheduled.

Chicago-based Groupon, founded in 2008, offers discounts to members on the basis that so many people sign up for the offer to make it become available for all. The site offers one deal of the day in each of the markets it serves.

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