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Groupon: Why Shooting Yourself in the Foot for a Laugh is Dumb

Note: Man, this is a prime example of a Teal Deer. Just glancing over my section titles, it might look like I am supportive of Groupon's taste of humor, when actually I'm not. I'm just trying to break down the entry to make it easier for people to read if they are curious to my thoughts on the subject. Anyway. . .

I missed out on Super Bowl and when I tried watching the ads on Hulu late late late Sunday night, it only played a few before stopping. I was busy doing other things, but my twitter lot of activity about one advertiser in particular and I finally got to see two of the ads and then we talked a little about it at work yesterday because, lol, TV advertising.

Groupon and their offensive commercials. Not only are they offensive, but they are pointless. If you aren't in the loop, here is the video of one of their ads:


And if it won't let you see the ad in other countries (or if you don't want to watch a video), here is the transcript of it spoken by actor, Timothy Hutton:

"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 Groupon.com, we're each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago."

Ends with a narrator explaining:

"Save the money. Unlock great deals in your town. Groupon.com."

There are two other commercials and one that is coming soon. Cuba Gooding Jr. talks about how the number of whales is dwindling and that someone needs to save them, "But it is more fun watchin' them jumpin'. Playing."

Elizabeth Hurley talks about the rainforest and deforestation. "But not all deforestation is bad." And she apparently saved money on a brazilian wax.

Ignoring the "Tibet" advert for a moment
I think many people would agree that mocking the subjects of saving the whales and rainforest was done in poor taste. The commercial is basically saying (in my opinion), "Subject X is a big deal, but who cares?" Or "Why bother?"

I'm quite fond of the quote by Helen Keller: "We may have found a cure for most evils; but we have found no remedy for the worst of them all, the apathy of human beings."

It is one thing to believe there are more important issues than animals and trees, but that isn't the same as "Eh, I rather have fun." and not give a damn.

"The number of whales is dwindling and someone needs to save them, but I personally think it is more important to help the homeless in my community right now." It's completely different.

This apathetic attitude displayed in these commercials show a side of selfishness and encourages the viewer to act the same. "Save The Money!" is more important than saving whales or the rainforest or anything for that matter.

Now Let's Focus on Tibet
Separating this out from the others because we're talking about a group of people. An entire culture. Taking their hardships and making it into a fucking "no big deal" joke for the sake of advertising.

I'm really irritated by the people I've been seeing on websites commenting, "I don't get what the big deal is. That's Tibet and has nothing to do with us." Shut the fuck up. It's bad enough that the commercial somewhat paints Americans as selfish inconsiderate pricks and now we have Americans proving the commercial to be true. Thanks, guys. Thanks.

I mean, okay. I don't expect a good chunk of Americans to understand what exactly is going on over in Tibet, but I don't think someone has to to see how disgusting this ad is. You're mocking another culture and a group of people who is currently struggling in some way. And has been for some time!

Why didn't they choose to mock and make light of the conflict between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? I'm sure Groupon could find an Irish Pub who was one of the clients! How about North Korea? Or maybe focus on something that's been in the news a lot lately and make light the turmoil in Egypt right now. I mean really, why is anyone fucking surprised that people are upset or find the advert distasteful?

The ad itself upsets me and I am getting more upset being told that I should "lighten up" and that "it's just a joke."

Fuck. Let's jump back a few years when Katrina hit. "The devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina left hundreds of thousands of people unemployed and homeless in New Orleans alone. Someone needs to help them rebuild, but it's more fun to visit the restaurants that survived! And since 100 of us bought at Groupon.com, we can enjoy Judy's Jambalaya for only half price!" Awesome!

I'm sorry, I'm just not seeing the humor in it.

Who are we really mocking?
Groupon's blog mentions it's idea was simple:

"So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?"

So you could say the idea or concept was a bait and switch. Reading just that clip alone, it doesn't sound half bad. You can make people think it is about a noble cause without actually bringing up a real noble cause. Hell, make up a ridiculous cause to paint up as real.

I find it silly when we plaster celebrities to causes all the time as it really is enough (to me) to show me puppies and kitties in need of help for the SPCA ads or people trying to rebuild their home for disaster relief. So to tease or mock the idea of celebrities flying to some location for a "photo-op" could be done well. (Not meaning to say that no celebrity supports or actually donates to a cause, but sometimes these adverts come off as fake.)

At what point does the advert even suggest how ridiculous it is to use a celebrity to get you to care about a cause? It doesn't! The joke ended up on the specific cause within the advert. Fuck, you could say these commercials make fun of organizations trying to do good in the world. "Save the Whales"? Fuck that! "Save the Money!" and spend with Groupon.com!

I know it wasn't Groupon's intention to offend and upset a large group of people. Why would an advertiser do that? But fuckin-a.

Groupon Actually Means Well
Did you know that Groupon actually wants you to donate to these causes? On TOP of that, Groupon will match donations up to a certain amount. How cool!

Wait.

How the fuck are we supposed to know this? It doesn't mention it anywhere in the ad nor does it even mention the website (www.savethemoney.org) where you can donate and learn about the causes!

You Just Don't Understand Advertising
I love advertising and that's why I want to get into it. I took a couple of classes in college and I find it to be one of the funnest things about my job. I've always enjoyed advertising since working with the web.

Groupon mentions on their blog that: "After a two-year holdout, we finally decided to run real television ads. In the past, we’ve depended mostly on word-of-mouth and limited our advertising to online search for a couple of reasons."

Awesome. So you're new to television advertising. Let me tell you about it! *Pats the seat next to her*

As a company you need to decide what you wish to accomplish with your commercial campaign. There are two things to consider: Reach and Frequency. Think of "Reach" as how it is used in this sentence: "Who and how many people you reach depends on where and when you advertise."

The audience for the Super Bowl will be different from the audience for the Oprah show. Not just the size of the audience (when looking at a market), but also your demographics. Why do we see so many beer ads during the Super Bowl and no Tampon ads? It's pretty basic stuff. Yes, some women watch the Super Bowl and yes, some men have the unfortunate task of having to buy tampons for their partner or daughter. But if Tampax wants to reach as many of their customers as possible, Super Bowl is probably not a good investment for them. Advertising is an investment.

I'll touch on Frequency in a moment as there is something that really irritates me about Groupon's commercials from a technical standpoint.

There are a number of reasons to advertise or set up a specific campaign. Brand recognition, attracting new customers, educating consumers, encouraging current customers to stay with you, to reward customers, and really. . .I could go on. Keep in mind, offending a good chunk of your target audience should not be one of these goals!

There was a Budweiser commercial that makes fun of "makeover reality shows" where the only thing they did to "make-over" a family kitchen was to add a big bucket of Budweiser on the counter. They have a party in the end as everyone but the wife finds it as a huge improvement. What's the point of that commercial?

People aren't really going to think having a bottle of Bud on the counter will make their kitchen look better. It doesn't tell people the way Budweiser tastes or even about the company. It doesn't encourage people to buy their beer in any way. Why do people watch Super Bowl ads? Because they are entertaining. Was this ad a clever ad? No. I think it was cute and all, but certainly not the best one. They want to be talked about and look, I'm talking about it. It's memorable and I am typing their name everywhere. Budweiser, Budweiser, Budweiser.

But Budweiser doesn't need to try and attract new customers, keep their customer base, or educate people. Many people already associate Budweiser with the Super Bowl. I'm sure they would love new customers or an increase in sales in general (who wouldn't?), but really. Brand recognition, enforcement, and buzz. It's easy for a business such as Budweiser to make a fun or random commercial simply for those reasons.

Advertising in a general sense can be this big complicated monster. The audience is different from newspaper, magazine, radio, television, and internet. Sure there can be overlap, but advertisers need to keep in mind that if you only pick one medium to advertise with, you're neglecting entire audiences and depending on who your target audience is, this could be a pretty dumb move.

So going back to Groupon.com. As an online company, it makes sense for their advertising to be only internet. As someone who spends the majority of their time online, I knew of them before Super Bowl. Now, they've mentioned on their blog that they've never advertised on television.

By advertising on television, they are reaching a new audience. People who use the internet, but aren't necessarily on it every waking minute of their day. You have families and college students who could benefit from a service like Groupon. Really. Waking up one day and making the choice to advertise on TV was a good idea. You just have to be smart about it.

Having never advertise on television before, you're also probably going to be seen by a lot of people who don't even know you or your product. ESPECIALLY when your product isn't something someone necessarily needs. An advertising campaign for the sole purpose of reinforcing a brand should be out of the question. I heard some talk about Groupon at work on Monday. People were talking about how friends and family were not only put off by the ad, but confused. "What was the commercial even for?"

Like we never hear that question for any advertisement ever.

No advertiser wants that. Making ads that aren't memorable and even worse, leaves the customer confused. . .that doesn't accomplish anything. You wasted all that money for nothing.

The only point in the ad where Groupon explains who they are is at the very end. Out of a 30 second commercial, you're spending 5 or 10 seconds actually educating the consumer who has never even heard of you. . .on who you are, what you do, and why they should become a customer. 5 or 10 seconds is definitely not enough in this situation which brings me to: Frequency.

Frequency becomes important to get the consumer to remember you. There are theories and research on how many times exactly you need to say your company/business name in a commercial, but you also have to consider how often said commercial is going to play. Super Bowl commercials tend to play during regular television after the first airing, I mean. . .they spent a lot of money on making the commercial on top of airing it in the Super Bowl. Super Bowl alone has a fantastic reach in terms of people tuning in, but you're probably not going to get a whole lot of "Frequency" within the Super Bowl. So spending only 5 to 10 seconds explaining who you are to an audience who has never heard of you? Pretty fucking stupid and I couldn't help but laugh when I read on their blog:

"We had tried working with creative agencies before and had never been that impressed. Our peculiar taste in humor made it really hard for outside agencies to come up with concepts we liked."

I wonder why.

First, your "peculiar" taste in humor might have been the problem to begin with. It doesn't translate well in advertising. There is a reason why humor that can be taken as offensive is better suited for stand-up comics, websites, and Hollywood movies. Because most people don't want to see it and the people who do will go looking for it. Also, creating a bad image for a company is. . .BAD. Knowing you have a "peculiar" taste in humor that a small minority of your customer base will actually share with you. . .you're shooting yourself in the foot by having your advertisement go that route.

Second, if you didn't like the concepts that multiple agencies were pitching to you, maybe you need to ask yourself why. . .because I see this as a big red flag. An Ad Agency's entire purpose is to build creative for you as well as get the ad "out there". It's their job and it's what they do. I get the feeling and impression that as a company, you were way too focused on "the joke" (that obviously didn't translate well), that you neglected to grasp the purpose of a television commercial as a new television advertiser. An Ad Agency wants your money, so if you didn't like so many of them. . .maybe the problem is you.

But you found an Ad Agency who was willing to take your money and produce a series of distasteful ads. So my question to you: How's that working for you?

What Did Groupon Accomplish?
All right, let's look at what happened.

Group Number 1 - Current Customers: These people have and/or are using Groupon's services. I'm seeing a lot of people in this group who are so unhappy by this ad campaign that they are stopping their use of Groupon. Will they come back in the future? Maybe. But as of right now. . .their cash flow to Groupon has stopped. Some people within this group who are unhappy might just be spending less money. Might increase in the future, but as of right now. . .their cash flow to Groupon is up and down. Then you have a small minority of people who either don't care or find it funny and continue to spend.

Group Number 2 - Informed Consumers: These are the people like me who have heard of Groupon, but hasn't become a customer for whatever reason. I'm seeing a lot of unhappy people in this group who are saying they won't ever become a customer. With Group 1, they are voluntarily dropping a service that they were once apart of. It will be easier to get those customers back than it is to get these consumers to become new customers. People who don't care or the people in this category who found it funny, might not be making the step to become a new customer because your advertising (even if viewed as funny) isn't encouraging new business. We know about the business, but you didn't tell us anything new. Except that you have a "peculiar" sense of humor.

The people in Group 2 who find it funny and do become new customers. . .is their business going to make up for the customers you lost in Group 1? I personally don't think so.

Group Number 3 - Uninformed Consumer:
They never heard of Groupon or really know what Groupon is. But suddenly everyone is talking about how the company is offending people and people in Late Night TV is making fun of them. Do we really think these Uninformed Consumer are going to take the initiative of looking into this company? Not when everything that's being said about Groupon is negative. Group 3 is least likely to work themselves into Group 1.

Groupon accomplished nothing, but giving themselves a negative image that will ultimately hurt sales of their business even if only for a short period of time. Oh, and they offended people. Way to go. I don't believe this will bring the downfall of the company. . .and I am sure their sales will go back up after some time, but if Groupon choked and died or had to be sold to another company I wouldn't be surprised.

What I am Upset With and Why I am Upset
I, obviously, find the ads in poor taste. I really dislike the Tibet ad. I get frustrated seeing the exploitation of suffering or hardships for personal gain. I hate serious issues always played off as something light an insignificant. You're right. The United States isn't Tibet or China, but that doesn't mean what is going on in another country isn't serious. Just because it doesn't affect you personally, doesn't make it a "light" issue.

He's why I am upset. The ad is part of a culture and attitude that only feeds an idea that we shouldn't care about other countries, about people in general, and that we should only use others for personal gain. Yeah, it's "just an ad" and that ad is part of a bigger picture that is feeding a disgusting mindset that we should be working against.

It's similar to the GoDaddy ads that continue to objectify women. I really dislike the one where they use, "But we are contractually held to do so." to convince a woman that YES, you have to do something that makes you uncomfortable.

And on a small side note, the other thing that annoys me is pretty minor, but it is personal to me. Groupon has never done television advertising and even said in their blog, "We don't even know if it works." They are getting a lot of negative feedback from this which really, I wouldn't be surprised if they take on the attitude, "Television advertising isn't for us." And that's just bullshit and I just hope other up-and-coming companies don't take this as a reason not to advertise on TV especially if it is a good fit for their business.

There is one good thing for my work about all this. Groupon has been rumored to come to this market even before the Super Bowl. My station sells a similar product and in April, going to a model that is similar to Groupon. Makes things easier on us if a competitor is dealing with a negative image.
Tags: advertising, cbs, rant, television, youtube
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