Posted February 11, 2011 8:16 am by with 10 comments

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Groupon is trying to close the book on a very interesting week if you are into reputation management.

To summarize:

  • Groupon runs ads on Super Bowl that appear to make light of certain social causes
  • There is a public “outcry” regarding the ads
  • Battle lines are drawn but most people think the ads are a mistake at best and an incredibly stupid move at worst
  • Groupon gets more free press than anyone if you don’t mind your brand being associated with the words insensitive, arrogant, pompous etc etc (along with an occasional ‘brilliant’ to be fair)
  • Top ad agency Crispin Porter takes shots as well for creating the ads
  • Groupon CEO Andrew Mason posts his view on the situation on the Groupon blog and gets more heat for the post’s attitude and lack of a real apology for the ads
  • More free press from traditional media and bloggers that at least mention the Groupon brand. Once again it depends on what you read if the associated words describing the company are naughty or nice
  • CEO Mason tries to put a final nail on the situation with a post that again falls short of an apology and has the air of “You people just don’t get it do you?” although a bit less so than the first post.

Here is what he said


Five days have passed since the Super Bowl, and one thing is clear – our ads offended a lot of people. Tuesday I posted an explanation, but as many of you have pointed out, if an ad requires an explanation, that means it didn’t work.

We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did – it’s the last thing we wanted. We’ve listened to your feedback, and since we don’t see the point in continuing to anger people, we’re pulling the ads (a few may run again tomorrow – pulling ads immediately is sometimes impossible). We will run something less polarizing instead. We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through. I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads.

To the charities (for which we expect to net over $500,000) and others that have spoken out on our behalf, we appreciate your support.

To those who were offended, I feel terrible that we made you feel bad. While we’ve always been a little quirky, we certainly aren’t trying to be the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy – we think the quality of our product is a much stronger message.

Thanks for taking the time to read,


So this draws to a close a memorable week for the high profile company, to say the least. Honestly, I don’t know what the end result was because I seriously doubt that many people cancelled the daily e-mail updates they receive from Groupon. People like to throw a fit but in this day and age no one needs to know whether you actually did anything about it.

Personally, I unsubscribed more because I was a bit creeped out by Joe Hall’s apparent ESP capabilities (Check out his post here at MP the day BEFORE the Super Bowl. Until then I never thought about what it would look like to unsubscribe from Groupon. Weird, Joe. Weird.).

Does this mean that I won’t go back? Not at all and I admit that. I have the same short memory that most have when it comes to stuff like this.

What will trail Groupon on this one is the rehashing of the event around next year’s Super Bowl. Now, Groupon may have lucked out on this one because the way it looks right now, even the big game’s fate is in jeopardy. Wouldn’t that just be Groupon’s luck to have this happen like that.

So Pilgrims, in the end what is your assessment of the ‘Groupongate’? Was this a major brand damaging event or was it much ado about nothing? Maybe it’s somewhere in between. I say that no one wants to be a reputation management case study for how not to do it. The bigger lesson may be that even in the online space the truth of “this too shall pass” is bigger than a blunder like this.

Your thoughts?

  • John J. Wall

    Still waiting for the client or agency that steps up and says “If you can’t take a joke, FU”

    • @ John Interesting take! Can anyone truly afford to risk the backlash of looking cool by flipping off the establishment, so to speak? You may be waiting for a while but in this day and age, the ‘legend’ created by such a move might help more than it hurts! Who knows?

  • We simply cannot forget American Puritanical roots. We get outraged by things.
    Ultimately though, I think it was a joke gone wrong. If it had been delivered better there would have been no issue.

  • Rex

    Anyone who got offended probably hasn’t done anything to help these causes. The fact is that these ads helped raise money for the very causes they’re supposed to be offending. Unless you’ve done something to help the cause – quit complaining.

  • dean

    I was absolutely outraged by the commercials and Groupon should be ashamed at its utter lack of sensitivity it showed around the issues it mocked. I for one will never…EVER…use Groupon again as I refuse to deal with companies that have such little respect for important societal issues…they are a bunch of smug little twerps drunk on their own success…wait…what’s that?…$40 worth of flowers for $20 from FTD?? I am so on that…gotta go…

    • @Rex – How would someone who didn’t know that Groupon was supporting these causes or even that the company’s roots are in cause related efforts know that Groupon was supporting these causes from those ads? I don’t think people are complaining but rather scratching their heads as to what these supposedly great creative minds were thinking or if they were thinking at all?

      If you have to explain a joke then the joke doesn’t work. I think what is more fascinating is the vibe being thrown off from Mason which sounds a bit elitist in spots but maybe the rest of the world just ‘doesn’t get it’ as you are suggesting.

      In the end it won’t hurt their business significantly but maybe they’ll think about how the rest of the world thinks when they try to talk to them in the future. Or they don’t care and it doesn’t matter. Time will tell.

      @ Dean – That was just plain funny. Thanks for the laugh.

  • I think it was a rookie mistake. Groupon got stars in theirs eyes thanks to Crispin Porter + Bogusky. They are legendary in the creative world and they sold Groupon on a concept that was better for their portfolio than their client’s bottom line. Live and learn.

  • The problem with the ad is that most people didn’t get it for a *reason* – I had to read an article (might have been on MP?) about Groupon’s roots to get that, given their roots and their matching contributions to charities, they clearly weren’t making light of charitable causes.

    But that was far from obvious to the average person who doesn’t give a flying sh*t about Groupon beyond potentially “saving 90%” somewhere local. So in that sense, the ads may have had a good idea but were very poorly executed.


  • I think this is probably the best thing Groupon can do at this point. Hopefully this will help them to incur less damage. While some people saw the humor in the commercials, many more were offended, and they could lose business.

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  • It is interesting to know the fact behind the truth. Possibly this is the first time when such a strong effort is noticed on such tiny issue. Just hat’s of to you. We expect such effort in future as well.