So did ya'll catch the big game on Sunday? Of course you did! Two old-guard teams slogging it out to the end; great Super Bowl! And of course, if you don't care for the sport, there were the commercials. The Super Bowl commercial breaks are usually a foodie Sahara, dominated by the likes of Bud Light, Doritos, and Pepsi-Max, hawked by adorable puppies, and idiotic men being smashed in the head and/or crotch. There was one notable exception this year, however, as Groupon made its first foray onto America's premier commercial showcase.
I absolutely love this type of service. For those of you who are not familiar, Groupon (and similar services like LivingSocial) sells a deal-a-day for each of their individual markets, relying on a bulk of coupons sold to cultivate massive deals. One day it might be $25 for $50 worth of dry cleaning in Alexandria; the next, $100 for $225 worth of botox treatments in Dupont. Very often, these deals are for restaurants, and the savings are dramatic. While saving money is awesome, at the same time, the coupons will remind me of places I had want to go for ages, and buying the coupon gives me a financial incentive to go before it expires.
So anyway, back to the ads. Sunday night, over the course of the big game, Groupon aired a series of three ads under the banner "Save the Money." I'd go into detail, but many have you have probably seen them. For those who haven't, here is the one that caused the most hub-bub:
My first response, on seeing this last night, was dumbfounded shock. I mean, damn, it takes some major cajones to use the very well known, very real suppression of a an entire culture by a civil rights quashing Communist dictatorship to sell your product, much less to brush the significance of said oppression away summarily in the process. They used a similar tack twice further in the night, likewise parodying the "Save the Whales" and "Save the Rainforest" causes.
Groupon did not jump into this lightly. For these $3 million spots, not only did they commission the stars involved, but famed "Mockumentary" Director Christopher Guest was tapped to direct. On their blog, Groupon explains the concept as follows:
The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. 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”)?
"What if," indeed? Is a "passionate call to action to help yourself" using such loaded imagery really a great sales tactic? Nothing Groupon sells is remotely a necessity -- So is it more than just First-World white guilt that has me see these ads and wonder if I shouldn't stop frittering my money away on ephemeral yuppie crap, and instead use it to further some universally good cause? Like, say... human rights, or the environment? Hell, maybe I'll give that $30 I was gonna spend on that $60 spinning class to the Sierra Club, instead...
Mine has not been the only poor reaction to the spots. In response to the negative publicity, Groupon founder Andrew Mason posted on Monday evening that the whole affair was meant to call attention to the very charities they seemed to mock. To be fair, Groupon has put up a site encouraging donations, but I am still left with a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever way you look at it, Groupon was mocking someone -- either the bleeding hearts on the charitable side, or their shallow, facile customers -- and if the campaign was intended as some super-dry post-modern pastiche, it missed its mark, given its total lack of context.
So what do you guys think? Were these ads in very bad taste, or frankly brilliant parody? If you don't use Groupon, will you start? If you already do, will these ads effect how you deal with them in the future?