Groupon's 'Tibet' Super Bowl Ad: Harmless Fun Or Offensive? : The Two-Way It didn't come even close to the top of USA Today's annual "Super Bowl Ad Meter," but Groupon's Save the Money - Tibet commercial appears to have won the distinction of being this year's most controversial Super Bowl spot.
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Groupon's 'Tibet' Super Bowl Ad: Harmless Fun Or Offensive?

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Groupon's 'Tibet' Super Bowl Ad: Harmless Fun Or Offensive?

Groupon's 'Tibet' Super Bowl Ad: Harmless Fun Or Offensive?

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Super Bowl ads for the company Groupon are raising the age-old question of whether any publicity is good publicity. Groupon, which sells coupons for local businesses, has received a torrent of criticism for this ad in particular.

(Soundbite of Groupon ad)

Mr. TIMOTHY HUTTON (Actor): Mountainous Tibet, one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought at, we're each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15...

BLOCK: The ad begins with lush scenes of Tibet and ends with Timothy Hutton being served that fish curry in a restaurant. One industry-watcher tweeted: Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3 million to lose customers who previously loved them.

So will this advertising actually hurt Groupon? Joining me now is media analyst Brad Adgate. He's senior vice president with Horizon Media. First of all, Brad, do you think this ad is offensive?

Mr. BRAD ADGATE (Senior Vice President, Horizon Media.): Well, I think it depends on who the viewer is. I mean that's the problem sometimes with the Super Bowl ad is everybody sees this. So kids may think that this is a little offensive. And older people may look at this as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of a public service announcement. So it really depends on who you're talking to.

BLOCK: Well, that second explanation is what Groupon says it was intending - a parody of the sort of PSA commercial. But let's listen to a part of one of the other ads and see whether it strikes us that way.

(Soundbite of Groupon ad)

Mr. CUBA GOODING, JR. (Actor): Whales, the most spectacular creatures on the planet. Hi, I'm Cuba Gooding, Jr. Today, their numbers are dwindling. Somebody has got to save them. But it's more fun watching them jumping, playing. And since 100 of us bought at

BLOCK: It's interesting if you look at the roots of Groupon. It grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site, and it's saying it's going to make matching donations to these groups that it's talking about in these ads. So there is some sort of underlying social consciousness to these ads. Whether it's perceived or not is a whole other question, I guess.

Mr. ADGATE: Well, I think all this press that's coming out afterwards - that this was a spoof and this was tongue-in-cheek - that perhaps if more consumers go into these websites and make donations to these organizations, then the mission is accomplished. They've done what they've setout to do.

It was kind of a very different way of doing it, certainly. And maybe the brand got raked through the coals on Monday morning quarterbacks. But, you know, if the ends justify the means, so be it.

BLOCK: You think they're being raked through the coals?

Mr. ADGATE: At certain segments they are. I think they have a lot explaining to do. If you read some of the comments made on Twitter last night, after the ad ran, a lot of jaws were dropping. They lost a lot of credibility I think from their subscribers.

BLOCK: Let's talk just a little about Groupon and where it's headed. Last year, it rejected a big offer from Google. There's talk about an IPO. What do you think this does to their business plan?

Mr. ADGATE: Well, you know, actually Google offered them 6 billion. An IPO is raising funds and they're projected to have an IPO at a value of 15 billion going forward.

So, you know, unless something dramatically happens, you know, the stock market is doing well. There's been a lot of IPOs this year that have exceeded expectations. I would suspect that, you know, this is a very fast-growing segment of the Internet. And I would suspect that this probably wouldn't hurt them too much.

BLOCK: Brad Adgate, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. ADGATE: Hey, thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Brad Adgate is senior vice president with Horizon Media in New York.

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