As usual, this year’s batch of Super Bowl commercials were a hit-and-miss affair. Bridgestone’s beaver and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader were pretty great, MINI USA’s “Cram It In the Boot” was pretty awful and Frito-Lay could probably depose a South American dictator with the cash they laid out promoting Doritos and Pepsi with generally mixed results.
While the public’s opinion on most of the commercials may have varied, there was one thing everyone seemed to agree on… the halftime show was awful. Oh, and people also seemed to be united in their disdain for Groupon’s seemingly insensitive and inappropriate Super Bowl commercials.
That one actually aired during Glee, which was after the Super Bowl, but the other two featured Timothy Hutton and Cuba Gooding, Jr. We’re posting the Elizabeth Hurley option 100% of the time when those are the only three choices.
Just as you would expect, Groupon’s decision to make light of some awfully tragic situations in the name of promoting their product was met with an immediate backlash from the viewing public. But are these commercials really as awful as they seem? For our part, we think people might be overreacting a bit.
Here are five reasons why it’s okay to like Groupon’s Super Bowl commercials…
1. What’s Really Being Mocked Here?
On the surface, it appears that Groupon is mocking the tragic situations depicted in these commercials, but is that really the case?
Okay, fine, it is the case. But is that all there is to it? Is this just a case of making light of a tragedy for profit and nothing else? Not at all. If you stop to think about it for a second, it’s pretty clear who the real target of the mockery is here… all of us.
These commercials put into words exactly why a market for whale watching tours or fish curry from Tibet or even something as heinous as blood diamonds even exists. A good majority of people in this country would much rather spend their cash watching whales jump around than spend it helping to ensure that whales even exist for our jumping enjoyment 50 years from now. All of this outrage aimed at Groupon is a classic example of shooting the messenger. They’re just holding a mirror up to our collective faces, there’s no reason to hate them just because we don’t like what we see.
Where Groupon slipped up is that, now, they’ve given a whole lot of complacent Americans an excuse to make it seem as if they give a shit about Tibet by doing nothing more than adding their voice to the “outraged masses.” Don’t be fooled, though. A lot of those people likely didn’t even know Tibet was a situation worth paying attention to until Timothy Hutton made an awkward joke about it. Granted, just like the rest of the commercials, it was a bad joke. But that brings up the next point…
2. A Bad Joke Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Bad Intentions
Like we said, it was a bad joke. We’re certainly not praising Groupon for their eloquence here. But a bad joke doesn’t mean bad intentions. It’s quite the opposite, which is a point we’ll get to later. But the fact remains, the statements in these commercials are meant to be viewed as a joke.
We suspect whoever wrote the ads put a little too much faith in the football watching audience’s ability to grasp the concept of satire. If you replace Cuba Gooding, Jr., Elizabeth Hurley and Timothy Hutton with Cartman, Kyle and Kenny we wouldn’t even be having this discussion right now.
But that’s fine, because…
3. At Least We’re Talking about Tibet Again
They might have done it in a ham-fisted manner, but you still have to give Groupon some credit for managing to make Brazilian rain forests, endangered whales and the plight of Tibet one of the biggest topics of discussion following the Super Bowl. Without Groupon, the majority of the debate about the Super Bowl commercials would center around whether the guy who licked his co-workers pants for Doritos was funnier than the woman who hit that hot young jogger chick in the head with a can of Pepsi Max. For the record, the Doritos ad was way better, but we digress.
Groupon could have just as easily spent their commercial budget on an adorable commercial with a kid in a Darth Vader mask, but instead, they spent it trying to give a little spotlight to some tragic situations that really deserve the public’s attention. They’re paying a bit of a price in the public relations area for it now, but at least they tried. It might take awhile, but at some point we suspect people will have a different take on Groupon’s initial attempt at Super Bowl advertising. Why? Because…
4. From a Marketing Standpoint, They’re Absolutely Brilliant
If any company offers a service that can withstand a little negative publicity, it’s Groupon. Sure, people might be compelled to boycott at first, but talk to us when the chance to buy $100 worth of groceries for $50 comes their way. In this economy, you almost can’t afford NOT to at least sign up and see what kind of deals they send your way. Even before this controversy erupted, Groupon was a wildly profitable operation. All this controversy is doing is making Groupon, literally, a household name.
In time, the public’s desire to hate them for making a joke about rain forests will subside, but the desire to save some coin putting food on the table will not. When that day comes, don’t be shocked if a lot of the same people who are so outraged now decide to quietly head over to Groupon and sign up.
But the biggest coup of all is how well Groupon’s ads worked compared to Living Social’s Super Bowl ads. Who or what is Living Social, you ask? Well, they’re Groupons biggest competitor. Recently they stuck a blow against Groupon by offering a deal where users could buy a $20 Amazon.com gift card for $10. They basically gave away free money. It was huge news.
But we certainly aren’t talking about Living Social now, are we? All the chatter about Groupon’s Super Bowl ads might seem like a PR nightmare, but it’s not. The old saying that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” has never been more appropriate than it is right now. You can bet your ass Living Social wishes they would have pulled a stunt like this, because Groupon’s “mistake” might just bury Living Social for good.
But even then, that’s a bit too cynical of a take on the whole situation, because Groupon has one last trump card…
5. They’re Trying to Trick You
How many people do you suspect took to the internet to seek out Groupon’s website in the hopes of finding a way to send some heated words their way via email? It’s safe to say that number was likely in the millions.
Well, with a scant amount of poking around on Groupon in the wake of the Super Bowl drama, visitors would eventually land at this page. If you don’t feel like clicking that link, here’s what you’d see if you did.
Well look at that! Turns out Groupon aren’t the assholes everyone is making them out to be. Do you really take the situation in Tibet or Brazilian rain forests or commercial whaling that seriously? Well, if so, feel free to help out.
This entire controversy is basically a ploy to get people talking about Groupon’s best deal ever. Donate $15 to one of the causes that they’re “mocking” and they’ll give you $15 right back. You literally get to help the cause that you’re claiming to be so passionate about for free. In light of this, those commercials make perfect sense and really aren’t that controversial at all. When Cuba Gooding Jr. says “but watching whales jump is more fun!” he’s not saying “spend the money on watching instead of doing.” With this campaign, you get to do both. Spend the money to help out, and you get the money right back to spend on something more leisurely.
And we’re mad at Groupon for this why?