Were Groupon's Super Bowl Ads Tasteless?

Groupon spent several million dollars offending a lot of people last night with a series of Super Bowl ads that started off as philanthropic pitches, then quickly segued into how you could get a great deal on the endangered entity with a Groupon. The online backlash was immediate and left many viewers wondering if Kenneth Cole was moonlighting as a Groupon ad copywriter.

“Mountainous Tibet – one of the most beautiful places in the world,” started off one of the ads. “This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on Groupon.com we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.”

The ads made it look like Groupon was commodifying tragedy, turning it into marketing opportunity.

Another ad had Cuba Gooding Jr. talking about saving the whales, then saving a bundle on a whale-watching tour. The third ad of the bunch had Elizabeth Hurley talking about saving the Brazilian rainforest, then bragging about how she got 50% off on a Brazilian wax job.

“Tasteless,” “disappointing,” and “offensive” were some of the words Twitter users used to describe their reaction to the ads, which was largely negative.

Groupon’s CEO told WSJ that he didn’t think the ads were offensive, but rather a “spoof” on his company that also mocked celebrity-sponsored PSAs.

Something that was missing big-time from the ads was the URL for savethemoney.groupon.com, where you can go to donate to each of the causes that were mentioned in the ads. That would have downgraded the ads from totally crass to merely dumb.