It seemed to be a rapid change of heart. After defending
controversial Super Bowl ads created with CP&B, Groupon CEO
Andrew Mason is now blaming CP&B and himself for trusting it as
an ad partner.
In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek profile last week, which noted
Groupon has stopped working with CP&B, Mr. Mason said he placed
too much trust in the agency "to be edgy, informative and
entertaining, and we turned off the part of our brain where we
should have made our own decisions. We learned that you can't rely
on anyone else to control and maintain your own brand."
The premise of the ads was to take well-known causes and tweak
both the cause and the role of celebrity spokespeople. The in-game
ad made light of the plight of Tibet and starred Timothy
That about-face and, more bitingly, the underlying assertion
that it fired CP&B, is riling some execs at the MDC Partners'
crown jewel, which by some estimates accounts for more than
one-third of the holding company's revenue. For one thing, people
familiar with the situation say the agency's contract with Groupon
was only through Feb. 28, and it's disingenuous to say CP&B was
dismissed. Groupon's TV schedule has run its course and no further
ads are planned, a Groupon spokeswoman said.
It's also surprising, given Mr. Mason's post-game defense of
CP&B's history of edgy advertising. "The firm that conceived
the ad, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, strives to draw attention to
the cultural tensions created by brands," he wrote Feb. 7 on
Groupon's blog. "When they created this Hulu ad, they highlighted
the idea that TV rots your brain, making fun of Hulu. Our ads
highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when
juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon."
The situation illustrates a classic tension in marketer-agency
relationships: Clients say they want to take risks, but later
realize they weren't ready or can't stomach the criticism
associated with them. And CP&B is nothing if not a risk-taker,
known for ads that reap miles of PR, even if they stir up
Among its executions in that vein: Burger King's "Whopper
Virgins," which conducted taste tests of the marquee burger with
folks who had never before tasted one, such as Thai villagers. It
also launched the Domino's campaign in which the pizza maker admits
its pies had historically been terrible, before touting a
Andrew Keller, CP&B's CEO, had only this to say to Ad Age
last week: "We signed on with Groupon on a project basis and
produced the work that we agreed upon. They are incredibly smart
marketers, [we] felt privileged to work with them and look forward
to their continued success."
Groupon declined to comment on Mr. Mason's change of heart
toward Crispin, but it's unlikely we'll see much mass-market
advertising from it in the near term. A Groupon spokeswoman told Ad
Age it hasn't yet decided if it needs an agency going forward.
If and when Groupon does hire a new creative agency, we having a
feeling it'll stick to the safe choice.
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Contributing: Kunur Patel