Super Bowl

Groupon Returns to Super Bowl Seven Years After 'Tibet' Flop

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Groupon's 2011 Super Bowl spot was criticized for seeming to make fun of charity fundraising.
Groupon's 2011 Super Bowl spot was criticized for seeming to make fun of charity fundraising. Credit: Groupon

Groupon is returning to the Super Bowl with its first commercial in the big game since its 2011 "Tibet" flop.

The 30-second ad, which will air between the third and fourth quarters of Super Bowl LII, will build on the company's recent campaigns focused on saving customers money on everyday purchases and helping small businesses grow. The commercial will feature a celebrity, the company said, declining to be more specific.

Groupon agency of record O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul handled creative duties on the new ad.

Groupon's first and only foray in the Super Bowl in 2011 was a huge misfire. Its "Tibet" spot, starring Timothy Hutton, opened like a pledge drive to help the people of Tibet, but turned to Hutton promoting a discount for Tibetan food. The ad was criticized for seeming to making light of the plight of the people of Tibet. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Elizabeth Hurley starred in two other Groupon ads in the game featuring, respectively, whales and rainforest "causes."

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason said at the time that the blowback surprised him, arguing that the ads mocked celebrities more than nonprofits and pointing out the fundraising widgets already in place at Groupon.com to help groups corresponding to each ad—The Tibet Fund, Greenpeace and Save the Rainforest—and match consumers' donations.

After a lull in TV advertising, Groupon returned to running commercials in 2014.

Groupon will take a humorous approach in its upcoming Super Bowl ad. "Humor is in our blood .... Not to leverage that would be disingenuous," says Jon Wild, VP of marketing at Groupon North America. But Wild stresses that company will strive to do it the right way.

To be sure, in a cultural moment focused on sexism and racism, Groupon will be watched closely after the 2011 misstep. Wild says "one of Groupon's values is respect, inclusion and integrity, and I'd like to think we will approach the spot with those same values." But he also says the commercial will still need to stand out and have an impact.

The company, which bought rival LivingSocial late last year, is gaining some traction. As it strives to revive its brand, the company has been spending more on marketing—it recently reported that it invested $101.5 million in marketing in the quarter, a 20 percent rise over the year-earlier period. Indeed, on a recent conference call with analysts, Groupon executives said they are seeing continued momentum from successful marketing efforts. "We expect to remain opportunistic with our marketing spend, looking for opportunities to capitalize on increased consumer activity and our unique mix CEO Rich Williams said on the November call. He hinted that while the Chicago-based company has been traditionally consumer-focused in its campaigns, it may explore more merchant-focused marketing in the future.

Contributing: Adrianne Pasquarelli

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