February 7, 2011; Source: Forbes.com | There's no telling how much new business the online coupon site, Groupon, will make from its first Super Bowl ads. But a human rights group is not happy with how one of the company's Sunday night commercials mocked the people of Tibet.
In the ad, pictures of Tibet and faces of Tibetans appear on screen as the actor Timothy Hutton is heard saying, "The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy . . . but they still whip up an amazing fish curry." The ad goes on to say how he and his friends are able to buy a meal at half-price at Himalayan restaurants in Chicago thanks to the response to a Groupon offer.
Free Tibet, a nonprofit human rights group based in the United Kingdom, was among those not amused by the ad. In a statement on its website, Free Tibet said, "It could be argued that the advert has helped raise the profile of what is happening in Tibet, after all awareness is the first step to accountability. But it does put Tibetans and their suffering at the heart of the joke and when it's used for commercial purposes, that is exploitative."
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Late on Monday, Groupon's CEO Andrew Mason posted a response on its blog saying it created the ad to "bring more funding and support" from people who would visit savethemoney.org, a separate Groupon site, and make a donation to the Tibet Fund, Tibet's largest charity. The blog post also said: "The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers – it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.”
While avoiding comment on the insensitive content of the ad, one expert branded the commercial as a failure for doing a poor job of explaining how Groupon works. "They went for the joke and they forgot the strategy, and that is probably a common rookie mistake in the Super Bowl," said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm.—Bruce Trachtenberg