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Groupon Ad *Evil* Genius

Tibetan prayer flags | Tibet tours with Laurus Travel

Twitter was filled with outrage over the offensive content of a Groupon.com ad which made light of the human rights abuses in Tibet.

I’m going to tell you why the Groupon Tibet ad was genius. Evil genius, maybe, but genius nonetheless.

If you haven’t seen the ad, take a second and watch it here (scroll through the ads until you see Timothy Hutton or Groupon)
If you haven’t heard about the “uproar” on Twitter, read here

3 Reasons Why the Groupon Tibet Ad Is Right-On-Target:

1. Good Reach. The ad will offend only a small amount of people enough that they will pull their Groupon accounts (i.e., if they remember to do it when making the media switch from TV to Internet-enable device).

2. Culturally Relevant. The ad hints at the Millennial and Generation X buying-and-giving philosophy/ trend (i.e. buy something and the company donates money to charity from the proceeds of the sale. Groupon hinted that eating Tibetan food only helps raise awareness of the Tibetans’ plight).

3. Guaranteed Laugh (or “low-hanging fruit”). The bait-and-switch is always popular, and the typically insular American humor with the conservative overtones will delight the section of population that would never be reached through online marketing.

According to a givingusa.org report on charitable giving for 2008, US citizens gave about 13.3 billion US dollars to International organizations (which was roughly 4% of the total giving for that year). According to Pew Internet studies, less than 17% of the total 79% of the US population online use a Twitter or other status updating service (as of May 2010). This means that the people on Twitter who were vocal about the Tibet jab in the Groupon commercial probably didn’t give any money to efforts to help Tibet and are also in the rare minority of the 100 million people estimated to have watched the Super Bowl last night.

Think about this. Groupon already has the Twitter and Facebook markets; they are naturally reaching the Millenials and the GenXers who are online through those services. To survive, Groupon needs mainstreamers; They need the Mr. Regular Joes who go online only to check email to head over to groupon.com and sign up.

Like it or not, the US is historically insular. We have a long tradition of making fun of foreigners. (One may argue that we are laughing with them and not at them, but let’s not argue that right now). Most viewers of that Groupon commercial were not like you and me, the so-called Denizens of the Internet. They were regular folk that haven’t yet realized the potential gains that can come from more Internet use. The start of the commercial was a stereotypical human rights plea with a typecast actor, and then Groupon pulled the prank on the audience at the end. The bait-and-switch, the foreigners-as-comedy schtick, it’s TV ad gold.

Knowing the target audience is an ad agency’s job. The Chicago agency responsible for the ad, Crispin Porter + Bogusky knows how to conduct Psychology, Sociology and Business research. For the tiny amount of customers Groupon loses, the nascent company will gain the mainstreamers that it so desperately needs to survive. This is indeed the “science” of marketing at its best.

Are you surprised that marketing is some of the worst, amoral, and defeating stuff on earth? This is the current ad climate, people. Crispin Porter + Bogusky did their job; Groupon showed guts (not honorable bravery, but still…) by going with the “guerrilla” marketing that their brand needed. Hemming and hawing about how Groupon “lost touch” and “stepped over the line” shows naivete about the exhaustive research behind marketing campaigns and ignorance of what makes up an attention-getting ad. Social media alone does not a full marketing campaign make.

I’m sure I’ve offended some of you. Let me know what you think in the comments.

More sources:




photo credits: Tibet Laurus Travel on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurustravel/
Groupon: screen shot, 07 Feb 2011 groupon.com

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nancy Creighton 9 February 2011, 8:58 pm

    Sometimes I think ad agencies know us better than we know ourselves.

  • Nancy Creighton 9 February 2011, 8:59 pm

    Sometimes I think ad agencies know us better than we know ourselves.

    • PurpleCar 9 February 2011, 11:08 pm

      That’s their job. Unfortunately.