Super Bowl ads: Almost as legendary as the event itself, they often garner as much attention and controversy as the actual game. Among this year’s controversial spots was Groupon’s Save the Money ad series, which parodies everything from disappearing rain forests to poverty.
The three ads unveiled today, which each feature a celebrity endorser, initially appear to be ads for charitable organizations. Then the subject unexpectedly changes to saving money with Groupon. In one of the 30-second spots, Cuba Gooding Jr. mournfully describes the dwindling whale population, noting that “somebody’s gotta save them … But it’s more fun watching them jumping and playing. And since 100 of us bought on Groupon.com, we’re each getting an $86 whale watching cruise for just $49.”
Twitter and other social media sites were immediately aflutter with disgruntled posts about Groupon’s insensitivity to these charitable causes. Many of the people I follow posted tweets regarding their disdain for the ads. Some suggested they would no longer use Groupon. Already, several mainstream media websites and blogs have posted stories about the controversy, considering whether Groupon will gain or lose business from the ads. Groupon itself has responded, providing Twitter followers with a link to the Save the Money Web site, which allows customers to donate to relevant charities.
From a public relations perspective, this scenario poses the classic “True or False: No publicity is bad publicity” question. In this particular situation, I think Groupon got it right. While some may be offended, many will find the ads lighthearted and funny. For those who were offended, Groupon has teamed with charities related to its commercials and is even offering customers special incentives to donate to certain organizations.
In the end, it looks like Groupon will have the last laugh. This mild (and no doubt, deliberate) controversy will give them a little extra publicity. And since they teamed up with the appropriate charitable organizations ahead of time, we can’t really give them too much flack for their perceived insensitivity.