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Groupon’s Super Bowl ‘Tibet’ commercial draws harsh reaction

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Great TV commercials are supposed to grab the public’s attention and spark discussion. But Chicago-based Groupon, the red-hot digital discount coupon company, got much more than it bargained for in its first-ever television ad campaign from the highly regarded Crispin Porter + Bogusky ad agency in Miami.

Groupon ran three ads in and around the Super Bowl Sunday, but “Tibet,” the 30-second in-game commercial starring actor Timothy Hutton, generated the most negative reaction of any ad in the entire Super Bowl of Advertising.

Groupon spokeswoman Julie Mossler said the company was pulling the “Tibet” commercial and that it would not run again.

In a blog posted Sunday, Groupon founder Andrew Mason said the new advertising was intended as “a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial.” But in the case of “Tibet,” all viewers apparently saw was a badly botched spot that made light of serious human suffering.

Alterian, a United Kingdom-based social media tracking firm, said Groupon had the most social media mentions of any Super Bowl advertiser in Sunday’s game. The Chicago discount coupon company also had the most negative social media mentions of any Super Bowl advertiser, according to Alterian.

Ironically, the company’s roots were in a website initiative that brought people together to work on good causes. “But we couldn’t make any money doing just that,” said Mossler.

As it sought to quell the furor surrounding the TV spot Monday morning, Groupon admitted it had erred in not making reference anywhere in the commercial to an effort it has launched at, to encourage viewers of the ad to make a contribution to The Tibet Fund.

Groupon’s Mossler said company executives and representatives from Crispin went back and forth about whether to include the reference in the Super Bowl commercial. But all involved in the debate finally decided to make reference only to the Groupon website, since the company was spending $3 million for the Super Bowl air time to drive awareness of Groupon.

“Tibet” isn’t likely to help Groupon in establishing operations in China, which the company is said to be in the process of doing. Thousands of Chinese reportedly responded negatively to the “Tibet” ad on the Internet after the ad was posted there. Mossler said Groupon “doesn’t speculate about countries we are not yet in.”

In the ad, Hutton eats fish curry from the Himalayan restaurant “in Chicago.” The Himalayan restaurants actually are located in suburban Niles, Bloomingdale and Gurnee. Owner Vivek Kunwar said people were starting to make the connection though it hadn’t boosted business greatly yet.

“I think the intention of the commercial was good, but the execution may not have been the same,” said Kunwar, who signed off on “Tibet” and its content before the spot was produced.

“We wouldn’t do anything with one of our clients unless they were 100 percent behind it,” explained Mossler.


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