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Groupon Returns to TV With First U.S. Commercials Since 2011 Super Bowl

Ads Will Air in Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Minneapolis, Nashville and San Francisco

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Groupon is returning to the U.S. airwaves as a TV advertiser for the first time since the 2011 Super Bowl.

The daily-deals and e-commerce company is launching a seven-week TV campaign on April 7 in six markets: Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Minneapolis, Nashville and San Francisco. The company isn't disclosing the spend on the buy, but senior VP-global marketing Rich Williams said that the campaign could be extended depending on whether it drives results like increased traffic and new subscribers.

The ad depicts people doing various activities -- from rock climbing to dining at a sushi bar to taking a blender they've purchased from Groupon out of its box -- and highlights the search functionality on Groupon's mobile app. There are 60- and 30-second cuts, but it's mostly the latter that will be airing.

Boulder, Colo.-based creative shop Victors & Spoils worked with Groupon's internal creatives on the strategy, and the company went to production with Los Angeles-based Sandwich Video. Groupon has no agency of record. Spark did the media buy.

Groupon hasn't bought a TV ad in the U.S. since the Super Bowl more than three years ago, but it's run TV ads in other markets like the U.K. and India in the meantime.

Those Super Bowl spots -- made by CP&B -- sparked controversy and were widely considered to be in poor taste. One of them opened with actor Timothy Hutton doing voiceover for what looks like a documentary on the struggles of the Tibetan people and then segues to him eating at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago using a Groupon. Other versions featured Cuba Gooding Jr. and Elizabeth Hurley in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein.

Mr. Williams -- who joined Groupon from Amazon later that year -- said that a lesson for the company from the 2011 Super Bowl was to be more focused on the specific story it wants to tell. In the case of the current set of ads, it's about Groupon's transition from a daily-deal email provider into a searchable e-commerce marketplace.

"It's easy to get caught up in letting breakthrough elements of an ad overshadow the story you're trying to tell," he said.

Groupon spent $56.5 million on marketing in the fourth quarter of 2013, down 7% over the previous year. The company has cut back significantly on its marketing spend from its peak in 2011. When it filed paperwork to go public, it reported that it had spent $613 million on marketing -- mostly to onboard new subscribers -- in the first nine months of 2011.

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