Groupon Super Bowl Ads Draw Controversy

Social networking/discount site Groupon made a big ad buy during last night’s Super Bowl, but they may not be entirely pleased with the publicity they’ve drawn:

Groupon may not be making its initial public offering yet — but it has made its mark on millions watching the Super Bowl, anyway. What is not clear yet is whether the start-up has burned through a lot of good will.

The company bought its first television ads for the big game, starting before kickoff, with one theme: “Save the Money.” All the commercials are premised on saving something endangered — and a few bucks to boot.

There is Cuba Gooding Jr. lamenting the fate of whales, while touting a 43 percent discount on a whale-watching boat ride. And there is Elizabeth Hurley, intoning about the rapid deforestation of the Brazilian rain forest … followed by a note that “not all deforestation is bad,” like a 50 percent discount on a Brazilian wax in New York City.

Perhaps most controversial of all is Timothy Hutton, deploring the troubles besetting Tibetan culture. Before tucking into a plate of discounted Tibetan fish curry.

Here’s the video of the Tibet ad, which seem to draw the most negative reaction last night:

I’m not sure whether this will help or hurt Groupon in the long run — there is, after all, a school of thought that says there’s no such thing as bad publicity — but it strikes me as a fairly tasteless way to introduce yourself to the American public.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John Burgess says:

    The Tibetan food ad caught my attention, and not in a good way. I thought, ‘What *ssholes!’

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Due to some screaming babies in the room (real babies, not steelers fans), I couldn’t really hear most of the commercials. I remember seeing the Hutton ad, but not knowing what it was for. I thought it was just a typical celebrity advocacy ad, paid for by the Sierra Club or the like.

    Now that I’ve seen what it really was…wow…

    For anyone who likes Groupon, btw, there is a very similar service called LIvingSocial, only with no limits on the amount of coupons one can buy. I think I just may move away from Groupon entirely.

  3. roger says:

    I’m sure a number of people will call Go Daddy’s ad tasteless too.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Joan Rivers as a Hot Babe making suggestive comments? Yeah, I guess you can count me in amongst those who thought Go Daddy’s ad was tasteless. Actually, “gross” might be a better word…

  5. MarkedMan says:

    Oh, and by the way, after several Superbowl’s worth of ads, I still don’t know what product Go Daddy sells.

  6. PJ says:

    I really can’t understand the controversy.

  7. I thought they were a funny and long called for mocking of the producers of overly santimonious and emotionally manipulative charity fundraising ads.

    Sadly, it’s a group that’s also know for their complete lack of humor, so the results are predictable.