That Groupon Tibet Super Bowl Ad

Did you see it?  People are mad.

Here it is:


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 in jeopardy.

But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.

WSJ culled Twitter responses to the ad that seem to encompass the immediate (and ongoing) reactions to the commerical:

That @Groupon commercial was terribly offensive. Way to commodify an entire people’s real struggles & experience.

That Tibet commercial of yours was the most offensive thing I’ve seen all day! #yousuck

Groupon, your commercial insulted a lot of people. good job. you suck.

@groupon You lost another customer from that Super Bowl commercial.

I guess Groupon decided to do a funny commercial about Tibet because Darfur would be in bad taste? #adFAIL

That was my initial reaction, also.  But now, I’m not so sure.

First, I learned that Christopher Guest directed them.

Then, the CEO of Groupon responded on Monday and, standing firmly behind the spot, wrote this:

We take the causes we highlighted extremely seriously – that’s why we created this campaign in partnership with many hallmark community organizations, for whom we’re raising money at Groupon’s roots are in social activism – we actually began as cause-based website called The Point, and we continue to use Groupon to support local causes with our G-Team initiative. In our two short years as a business, we’ve already raised millions of dollars for national charities like Donors Choose and Kiva.

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. […]

We took this approach knowing that, if anything, they would bring more funding and support to the highlighted causes. That’s why organizations like Greenpeace, buildOn, The Tibet Fund, and the Rainforest Action Network all decided to throw their support behind the campaign (read Greenpeace’s blog post here and the Rainforest Action Network’s post here). In fact, the feedback led us to make changes to the end of our ads that further encourage our fundraising. To that point, if the ads affected you, we hope you’ll head over to and make a donation (which we’ll match) – we’re hoping to raise a lot of money.

The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers – it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.

I certainly agree that that the ad has spotlighted the cause of Tibet.  How many more people this week are acknowledging, Googling, donating to Tibetan causes than were last week?

The other thing about this commercial is that it reveals a truth that plenty of people in this country, especially those who are the target demographic of Groupon, don’t want to acknowledge.  While we may fancy ourselves charitable, knowledgeable, aware of the world, compassionate, all those things, we also love the Groupon and it’s ability to save us some bucks at a restaurant.  I don’t think Groupon thinks this juxtaposition of how we see ourselves and how we act is bad (of course not because they WANT you to buy Groupons) but they are pointing out the way that we talk a big game, often without backing it up.  Eating out is immediately more satisfying and financially more responsible than helping out.  Basically, I think it is safe to say, Groupon was calling Americans shallow.  And Americans didn’t like that.  So, they yelled back that Groupon is shallow.

And that’s not wrong.  Groupon most certainly was commodifying the struggle in Tibet to sell their product.  No matter what their intentions, they were doing that, too.  People are talking about them. People will look Groupon up, learn about them, start participating in their program.

But, perhaps, there is more to it than just that for this company.  Let’s hope that the result is in fact more money going to some worthy charities.   AT LEAST that is part of this entire stunt on Groupon’s part.

Plenty of companies had terrible, terrible ads that, of course, either objectified or hated on the ladies (I’m looking at you GoDaddy!, Teleflora, whatever the fuck Kim Kardashian was selling).  I think it may be a better use of our time to focus our ire on this shit ad from Pepsi Max after we have sent some money to our favorite cause.

I am REALLY interested to know what people think about this Groupon Tibet commercial now that we are days from its debut.  How offended are you?  Why?  Is it better than the Eminem/Detroit ad?  And that ad for Pepsi Max is shit, right?


One thought on “That Groupon Tibet Super Bowl Ad

  1. Groupon did an online ad for my massage therapy practice. It was obnoxious and belittled my profession. But it sold lots of massages.

    That’s pretty much the Groupon style. Actually, the Tibet ad is quite a bit more respectful than they usually are.

    First reaction – yeah, obnoxious. But really, all Groupon is doing pointing out things that are true: Tibet is in trouble, Tibetan food is yummy. Odd, jarring juxtaposition, but life is like that.

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