Monday, February 07, 2011

Groupon's "Save the Money" Commercials

Once a year our family goes in for a night of being a "normal" American family and watches the superbowl together. None of us are into football at all, but we have fun cheering along with millions of those who are around the world, gnoshing on goodies and best of all, watching the commercials. I admit I don't have the toughest skin, and there were a few moments in multiple commercials that I found tasteless. But when Groupon's Tibet themed ad came on, I had a naive moment of thinking that the ICT had actually raised enough money to run a superbowl commercial, which quickly turned into having my jaw drop when it turned into a "ha ha" moment for Groupon. My husband and I were both shocked that a company would take something as serious as the atrocities of Tibet and try to make a joke out of it. We logged onto Facebook to see the potential fallout. While encouraged that there was some, we wished there was more. Plenty of people were posting to bash the "hippies" (there was much worse name calling going on) who were offended. I tried to take a moment to analyze my feelings about the commercial. After sleeping on it and watching it along with Groupon's other commercials, I've decided that my initial reaction was sound. Quite simply, using a situation where we have seen a generation of murder, rape, religious oppression, and exile to make a joke is tasteless in the extreme. I've seen bloggers this morning defending Groupon as having been making a joke about themselves--being self deprecating by admitting that it's about money and nothing more. I don't see how that excuses the situation. Once again, it seems that the only way to try to get people to understand why it is offensive is to beg the comparison of something that would be significant to them. Can you imagine a company trying to get away with making light of something that the majority of Americans hold sacred? Would Groupon have ever even considered starting a commercial with the tragedies of 9/11 and then turning it into a joke about getting cheap New York pizza? Absolutely not. Yet they exploited an equally tragic situation because it was removed enough from the American psyche for them to get away with it.

Perhaps the saddest part of all of this for me is the opportunity it has created for the division of our country to play itself out on yet another canvas. Go to Groupon's Facebook page or any of the blogs where people are commenting, and you'll see people ripping apart those condemning Groupon. Thankfully as of early this morning there wasn't too much acknowledgement of those barbs, but there was some mud slinging back and forth. There is a definite air from those not offended of "Why should I care?". Mostly it's all just name calling and cries of "It's just advertising!" Again, I would challenge those defenders of Groupon to imagine a similar commercial with something that is dear to their heart. How about a joke ad about Hurricane Katrina's devastation that turns into a funny bit about saving money at a hardware store? Or maybe poking fun at our men and women in uniform who are in the line of fire and then turning into a laugh about cheap airline tickets? The point is that with this method of advertising, Groupon is capitalizing on our propensity that already exists to turn a blind eye to issues that we can easily forget about. These are issues that are easy for Americans to forget about--to think it doesn't affect us because it's not our backyard. Groupon is giving a nudge and a wink to things that we should be ashamed to be brushing aside as "not my problem". It's truly shameful.

Groupon's only saving grace is their "Save the Money" site where the ads are posted along with buttons where people can donate to related charities for each of the issues that Groupon is mocking: currently commercial whaling, rainforest deforestation, and Tibet. (All very funny issues, right?) For the Greenpeace donation, Groupon will give you a $15 credit for a $15 donation. Groupon is also matching donations to the organization they chose: "The Tibet Fund", up to $100,000. That's nice, sure, but does it really make up for exploiting gross human rights violations for advertising? I find it almost equally offensive that they feel that throwing a "donate" button up under the commercial makes up for their tasteless ads. There is some information from The Tibet Fund on the option to purchase the $15 donation for them. At this point I think Groupon should at the very least make a bigger deal about encouraging people to learn about the issues in Tibet. At the time of this post 1,667 people have purchased the donation to Greenpeace (getting $15 back in Groupon credit). Only 47 have purchased the Tibet donation. I myself wouldn't purchase it because it feels like condoning the ad. Until Groupon ups the ante in repairing this colossal blunder I'll be canceling my Groupon account (which they've made very difficult to do) and continuing to ask people to pay attention to things like these ads that are encouraging us to forget about everyone else's problems in favor of lining our own nests. While I would love to see an apology from Groupon, I'm learning to tone down my naivete.