Is Groupon the real Super Bowl loser?

The discount-deal site goes from darling to dud after a series of ads that some viewers thought were in bad taste.

By Kim Peterson Feb 8, 2011 1:24PM
Credit: (© Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Caption: A sign at the Groupon headquarters in ChicagoNo such thing as bad publicity? Groupon hopes so.

The company has suffered days of negative feedback after running three Super Bowl spots that appeared to make light of issues like human rights oppression in Tibet. "The people of Tibet are in trouble," actor Timothy Hutton said with apparent concern. "But they still whip up an amazing fish curry!" You can watch the spot here.

The ads triggered so much criticism that Groupon's founder, Andrew Mason, went online not to apologize for them but to explain them. He said the Super Bowl commercials that are truly offensive are ones built around "the crass objectification of women." Groupon's ads didn't do that.

Mason said the ads were mostly self-mocking, a takeoff on the shameless self-promotion that advertising is usually based on. "We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes," Mason wrote. "Even if we didn't take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?"

In the video interview below, the agency behind those Groupon ads defends them.

Post continues after video:

Even Conan took aim at Groupon on his show, offering a fake commercial lamenting the Hindenburg disaster but celebrating the "savings explosion" of a Blimpie sandwich deal on Groupon. "Oh, the frugality!" the commercial joked.

In the big picture, Groupon's business seems not to have suffered much from the backlash. But the Super Bowl ad is a bit of a stumbling block in the discount site's meteoric rise to become one of the hottest properties online.

And so Groupon joins an ignominious list of companies that made bigger Super Bowl flubs than Christina Aguilera. Here are some other losers:

1. Hang in there, Jack. A bus plows into the "Jack" mascot from Jack in the Box. Jack is lying on the street, cracks all over his bulbous head, when his assistant picks up the phone to say, "My boss just got hit by a bus, and it looks really, really bad." Why, yes, that describes the commercial perfectly. Video clip here.

2. Holiday Inn sex change. Featuring a smokin'-hot woman formerly known as "Bob." "It's amazing the changes you can make for a few thousand dollars," the narrator says. "Imagine what Holiday Inn's will look like when we spend a billion." Groan. Video clip here.

3. Just for Feet. A group of white men in a Humvee follow a barefoot Kenyan runner, spike his water with a sedative and force shoes onto his feet. The ad was so horrible that Just for Feet ended up suing the agency that created it. Video clip here.

4. Cream your face. A cheesy, smarmy spot featuring Joe Namath with Farrah Fawcett singing "Let Noxzema cream your face." Ahem. Video clip here.

5. Snickers mechanics kiss. Two mechanics, working on the same car, eat the opposite ends of a Snickers bar until they kiss. Then they have to do something "manly" to recover. Nice little dose of homophobia, Snickers. Video clip here.

6. Apple's lemmings. Everyone loved Apple's 1984 ad. But the lemmings spot, showing a line of blindfolded people falling off a cliff to their deaths, was cruel and dark and a tough one to explain to the kids. Video clip here.

More from MSN Top Stocks:
Feb 8, 2011 3:11PM
Groupon a Super Bowl loser?  C'mon, you're kidding with this ridiculously tripe article. This was one of the top two ads that caught the viewers attention and made them laugh. All of the others, that's right, ALL of the others were dull, boring, tedious, and more than a tremendous insult to an educated viewer. The only other ad that deserves any mention of being good was the little Darth Vader guy. Americans simply do not have a sense of humor anymore. We have become a nation of up-tight, politically correct, humorless morons. Anyone who does not see the humor in Groupon's ad simply has no sense of humor. Quite frankly, this short ad probably did more in its humor to help the cause of the Tibetan people than all of the western Goverments lip-service has done in the last two decades.
Feb 8, 2011 3:35PM

My very first instinct when seeing these commercials were that of offense, because in my heart I, like so many others do “care” about these issues.

 But then I took a step back and looked at the reality of it all. These commercials are just expressing the mentality of most Americans, including myself. Sure we "Care" about the oppression of People, the rapping of the Rainforest, the life of endangered Whales. But ask yourself.... Do you really spend a good amount of your time DOING something about these issues? Do you use your saved money to pay it forward towards these real life problems? Or...... is more of your time spent on how to get what you want, at a cheaper price, when you want it?

We are a society of narcissistic, consumers, who pretend to care about the World's problems. But we are not willing to give up our extravagant lifestyles (compared to most countries and cultures) to really, truly help others. If so, our country wouldn't have the amount of homeless, hungry, unwanted people as we do now. Would you be willing to give up your IPhone and the cost of a Media package (approx $110 Mo.) for a year, to feed a family of 4 in Africa for 4 years (at 82cents a day according to the Christian Children’s Fund).    

The next time someone uses their time to complain about  "offensive" commercials, ask yourself, when is the last time you did something for someone other than yourself or your own family?

Personally, I now applaud these commercials because they highlight issues that so many Americans most likely never even knew existed or just forgot about. I bet the next time you eat at a Tibetan restaurant, you will think twice about the people of Tibet.

Feb 8, 2011 4:43PM

Great commercial.  Never heard of the company until  I saw that commercial.  This country is suffocating under the curse of political correctness and the political correctness Gestapo.


What I did find extremely offensive was the butchering of the National Anthem.  That idiot not only didn't know the lines, but screamed the anthem like a cat in heat.  Her wailing was abrasive to the ears.  A Boy Scout troop would have done a much, much better job.

Feb 8, 2011 4:18PM
People need to stop having their feelings hurt so easy. We have gone so far the other way with politically correct it is disgusting. You have to explain everything you say and do. Tell Hollywood to have a steaming hot cup of shut the He!! up and go play with their millions.
Feb 8, 2011 4:41PM

It was a commercial, it was a joke.


Have a sense of humor and stop taking yourselves so seriously.


What a bunch of crybabies we've become.

Feb 8, 2011 2:59PM
Really? These commercials upset you? The ads were amusing and I enjoyed them. I want to say that they were probably just "over some people's heads."
Feb 8, 2011 2:38PM
Frankly I didn't see a decent ad during the entire show. None of them were really creative or innovative. Most were either boring, dull or just plain tedious. Some were a rehash of previous years themes while others appeared to be targeting a twelve year old mentality. We were disappointed to say the least. 

Why do we have to be politically correct about everything in our lives today? Just take it at face value.......and's funny.

Feb 8, 2011 3:27PM
Jeese people are such pussy's today...everyone is so sensitive!!  It's really okay to laugh at this stuff, you won't be struck down by lightening.  I didn't find it in bad taste at all, it's supposed to be in jest...humor, has everyone lost their sense of humor?
Feb 8, 2011 4:30PM

It wasn't the only lame and offensive ad last Sunday..


but NOTHING was as lame the bad job on the Natiional Anthem, or the crap that passed for music from the black-eyed pee heads

Feb 8, 2011 3:37PM
The commercials that drive me up a wall are the ones that make it look like all husbands are dolts. McDonalds had that annoying one where the husband is trying to outsmart his wife so he doesn't have to paint the garage but she ends up tricking him to go shopping for drapes or something ridiculous. A. Who paints their garage? B. If he doesn't want to do it, why not man up and tell her, I'm not painting it this weekend, end of story. C. Tell her to shop for herself. She's obviously an independent woman. How is an idiot husband going to be any help, right?
Feb 8, 2011 5:18PM
I seriously thought when I heard people had problems with these ads that is was a joke.  People, lighten up, it was a joke, meant to be a joke, nothing more, nothing less.  It was funny.  If you don't think so then don't laugh.  Don't whine about either though.  I've had enough of you freaking whiners, whining about everything.  Waaaaaa, waaaaaa, waaaaa.  Don't want to hear it anymore.  Zip it up, quit whining........Seriously, zip it up!!!!!!!!
Feb 8, 2011 4:45PM
Nobody twisted the arms of the Hollywood Elite to do these commercials. I thought they were funny. Lighten up people
Feb 8, 2011 3:54PM
People need to shut their traps and stop saying every little thing offends something.  They are just freaking commercials, so if you don't like them, don't watch them.  Commercials are breaks for going to the bathroom or getting a drink.  Who watches them?!  Maybe insecure people and people who's sole purpose in their "life" is to start trouble and gain off of it, one way or another.
Feb 8, 2011 4:36PM
groupon saved me over $300 in 2010.

for those that don't like the groupon ads,just grow up.

Feb 8, 2011 4:47PM
I'm reading a lot of crying about an ad that simply said Tibetans make a great fish curry.....Truth is, they probably do.  Now you're all gonna eliminate your Groupon accounts because you were offended by a commercial that didn't even name YOU in it.  I am extremely glad that this guy did not apologize for the ad, nor should he. Nobody, including the Tibetans, was truly hurt by this ad. Grow up, they're just words, and last time I checked, words never killed anybody. Unless your a complete loser with no self esteem, and if that's the case then look in the mirror, say how special you are, and grow a backbone.
Feb 8, 2011 4:38PM

Most if not all who complain about the Tibet ad dont evn understand Tibet. This ad about Tibet actually very subtlely reveals wht is going on in Tibet. I am sure while 'some' have heard of Tibet, most dont even know wht Tibet is fighting, Do u guys?

Do u guys even know who and where the Dalai lama is from and wht he symbolises?

Tibet is fighting for freedom jst as egypt is and Groupon, with their ads is trying to reveal to u morons wht Tibet is fighting for.

So stop knocking anythng u dont understand.



Keep it up Groupon. Much of the world dont understand.

Feb 8, 2011 3:12PM
I agree 100% with "Someone".  There was nothing wrong with these commercials...I saw plenty of others that were questionable, but the Groupon's commercials were funny and intelligent at the same time.
Good work and it wouldn't be the Super Bowl without someone complaining about something!

Feb 8, 2011 5:36PM

Wait there's still people complaining?!

I just did this, how many of you crying over how this ad hurt "YOUR FEELINGS" did this?



  • Donate $15 to help  The Tibet Fund develop an initiative for youth employment and economic development in refugee exile communities. All donations matched.

Stop crying over things and DO SOMETHING!!!!!!

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