Groupon: Stunt or Stupidity?

Like many media-obsessed folks, I was on Twitter during the Super Bowl watching the critique of the ads in real time. Much of what I was seeing came from people in marketing or social media. And the 140-character limit made for necessarily succinct reviews. There was disagreement and some spirited banter. That is, until the Groupon ad ran.

Suddenly, nobody even needed all 140 characters.

“Groupon. Ugh.”

“Groupon. #FAIL”

I felt the same way. I was nearly dumbfounded by the audacity and apparent insensitivity. The ad, by talented creative agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky hit me like a sucker punch in the gut. And I wasn’t alone. People tweeted about how they were stopping what they were doing right now so they could cancel their membership. I watched in amazement as this group of people who formerly were casually agreeing and disagreeing suddenly coalesced into the cyber equivalent of a pitchfork-carrying angry mob. And I understood it.

Then, suddenly, it hit me. We were all talking about Groupon. Other spots were whizzing by without comment so the Groupon discussion could continue to smolder. Groupon had monopolized the conversation by relying on one of the oldest adages in the book. There is no bad PR.

Well, maybe. After about 30 or 45 minutes someone posted that Groupon had a page on their site entitled “Save The Money” which allowed you to donate to the very charities that appeared to be lampooned in their ads (I’d post a link, but it’s gone now. Hmm. But here’s a link to their blog instead.). The Tibet ad was the only one that had run so far, but there were more! Maybe we had played right into the trap of indignation and now we were seeing the real intent of the campaign. Some in my Twitter stream believed it. Some not. But it made you think. Maybe they weren’t that insensitive after all. Could we have jumped the gun?

But the debate raged on.

Lawrence O”Donell Strongly Defends Groupon’s Super Bowl Tibet Commercial

Conan Unveils 5 More Offensive Groupon Super Bowl Ads

Finally, Groupon announced that they were pulling the campaign and apologized. So that meant the angry mob was right. Right? All the negative publicity finally caught up with them. The system worked. Right?

But, hang on. Now it’s February 11th – five days later. Five weekday news cycles have gone by and we’re still talking about Groupon? The CEO holds a news conference and the media actually attend? No way anyone would have cared before the controversial ad aired. Media outlets are even quoting their 78% jump in web traffic. As Yosemite Sam might say, “Wait just one carnsarn minute, here!”

Maybe…just maybeGroupon pulled a “New Coke” on us. Maybe the plan was never to run this campaign. Perhaps it was all about generating the initial buzz and riding the wave. Maybe they just proved, once and for all, that there really is no such thing as negative PR.

Bottom line: we don’t know. So, let’s watch the sales. Let’s see if Groupon grows their subscriber base. Let’s track which merchants drop them and which ones pick them up. Because I’m hearing proclamations about how the system worked and good triumphed over evil. I think those who ascribe to that belief may be missing the point. It’s really all about the revenue. And we don’t know the end of that story yet. Now that Groupon will slink out of the spotlight, let’s see what happens.

So, what do you think? Have I constructed a convoluted conspiracy theory here? Or is it possible that this was Groupon’s plan all along? Will they be buried under all this negative publicity? Or will they become a feel-good bounce back story after seeing the error of their ways?

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2 Comments

Filed under Advertising & Marketing, Branding, Groupon, Marketing best practices, Marketing myths, Public Relations, Social media & branding, Super Bowl Ads, TV Commercials, Twitter

2 responses to “Groupon: Stunt or Stupidity?

  1. Christy

    Very interesting. I have to say that my reaction to the Groupon ad was of repugnance, and whether the PR is good or bad, whether people are still talking about it or not, my abhorrence will definitely cloud my opinion of Groupon for a long time and will influence my consumer choices.

    There’s no bad PR? Hmmm… Well, I haven’t bought gas from BP in a long time. And I know people who are still boycotting Exxon and Nestle. Yes, that’s more based upon actions than on campaigns, but still… I just have to believe that the choices that a company makes regarding its ethical image make a difference. We are guileless sheep in many ways when it comes to advertising, but there’s a point at which advertising goes too far. I think Groupon might have hit that point during the Superbowl.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Christy.

      The thing about successful PR is that it’s measured in the aggregate . Negative PR has negative reactions from some individuals. But it stirs curiosity in others. And the general buzz around a media event like this is substantial. In the case of Groupon, that buzz leads to a website. Website traffic is the vehicle for Groupon’s value. So, ironically, they have more eyeballs now than they did previously. And that makes them more valuable to potential advertisers.

      So they’ve lost you. And perhaps many others like you. But for now they’ve actually gained audience and media coverage. Whether they are ultimately successful will be something we’ll discover over time.

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