Groupon ad shows that “wait-and-see” can beat “jerk-the-knee”2011-02-08
One of the great benefits of the real-time web—instant feedback—is also one of its hazards. People react oh-so-quickly to anything that tweaks them the wrong way. Circumspection and patience are words that may vanish from the lexicon. On the other hand, we now know what hundreds of thousands of knees jerking simultaneously sounds like.
It happens when companies introduce new logos, start blogging or tweeeting, or make acquisitions. With few facts and a gutful of emotion, we rip into what we see, often jumping on a bandwagon already teetering under the weight of the me-too crowd. The Judgment Rush is so fast it makes the Gold Rush look downright glacial by comparison.
The latest example (unless something has happened while I’ve been occupied writing this post) is the Groupon commercial that aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl. To read the savage criticisms, you’d think that Groupon pranked the Dalai Lama rather than point to the challenges facing Tibet as a segue into a pitch for the company’s services, using a Chicago-based Tibetan restaurant as an example.
(Groupon actually aired three commercials—the Tibet spot with Timothy Hutton, one on the rainforest with Elizabeth Hurley and a third promoting the save-the-whales effort with Cuba Gooding, Jr. And while all took the same approach, the Tibet spot is the one that generated all the heat.)
To be fair, the commercial does minimize the suffering in Tibet. It’s interesting, though, that while the backlash in the U.S. was severe enough to bring Groupon’s unsubscribe service to its knees, the Chinese saw it differently, reacting harshly to the characterization of Tibet as a country where “the people are in trouble and the very culture is in jeopardy.”
But it’s also worth examining the real fallout from the ad, paid for by a company that has its roots in social causes and continues to be a standout when it comes to corporate social responsibility:
- The ad resulted in 50,000 new customers joining Groupon, according to MDC Partners Chairman and CEO Miles Nadal, which owns ad creator Crispin Porter. CNBC quotes Nadal saying, “(Groupon has) over 50,000 new customers that have come on board since the ad ran, so its actually drawing the kind of business performance that we expected it to.” If you don’t measure the success of a communication based on the objectives you set for it, how do you measure it?
- The subsequent coverage of the fallout from the ad has led far more people to learn about Groupon’s socially-conscious roots than would ever have known about it otherwise. Virtually every article covering the kerfuffle recounts the company’s origin as The Point, a service designed to support the success of non-profit campaigns. The company will probably wind up with a better reputation in the long run as a result of the commercial, not a worse one.
- Can you name one effort that has heighened awareness of the crisis in Tibet more than the commercial that offended so many people? As Huffington Post blogger Disgrasian noted, “...after they aired that Super Bowl ad about Tibetans-being-oppressed-but-who-gives-a-shit-when-we-can-save-money (above), we’re actually talking about Tibet today. And when’s the last time anyone talked about Tibet? At a Bjork concert in 2008? Groupon’s made Tibet hip to talk about again! I mean, sure, talk is cheap, but so are things you buy with Groupons!”
Within hours of the ad airing, the blogosphere was filled to brimming with posts about what Groupon needed to do to correct the situation. Some of the advice was good, even great, but Groupon didn’t need the help, thanks very much. They’ve been promoting the fact that the ad was tied to The Tibet Fund; Groupon is matching donations up to $100,000. The Tibet Fund wasn’t the only NGOs to lend their support to the campaign; others included Greenpeace, buildOn, and the Rainforest Action Network.
The company has also been
blogging actively and engaging in the conversation by throwing out kick-starters like this:
When we think about commercials that offend us, we think of those that glorify antisocial behavior – like the scores of Super Bowl ads that are built around the crass objectification of women. Unlike those ads, no one walks away from our commercials taking the causes we highlighted less seriously. Not a single person watched our ad and concluded that it’s cool to kill whales. In fact—and this is part of the reason we ran them—they have the opposite effect.
I’m not suggesting the ads were not ill-conceived. But the result isn’t as devestating as so many hurried to predict, partly because Groupon’s heart was in the right place, partly because there were unintended consequences (like greater awareness), partly because some people actually liked the ads and partly because, like them or not, they led a boatload of people to become Groupon customers.
Waiting to see how things shake out rather than reacting immediately can be an excellent strategy.