Yes, we saw a lot of ads yesterday around the Super Bowl, but none have touched off a firestorm of controversy quite like Chicago-based Groupon’s ads. I’ve re-posted one of them here for your viewing pleasure.
My pure, unvarnished reaction to them wasn’t shock or horror or an immediate rush to say that I would never use Groupon again. You know what I did? I chuckled. My mouth dropped open not because I was put off but because I admired Groupon for having the guts to run ads like this.
Many don’t agree with this opinion. But here’s my theory – deep down, some people had the exact same reaction but couldn’t admit it to anyone because it would seem like you don’t care about Tibet or whales or deforestation. So you had your inner laugh and then took to blog and tweet about how offended you were and how these ads were going to bring out the end of Groupon. Others were genuinely offended from the get-go and I can respect those folks for their opinions too.
But if I was to sit here and say how morally wrong I thought those ads were, I wouldn’t be true to what I felt the first time I watched them. Ads are meant to bring about a reaction on the most emotional level and Groupon achieved that with me in a positive way. It didn’t make me dismiss Tibet as an unworthy cause of my attention. Not one bit. I care about all those causes very much and I think everybody should. If you think an ad that isn’t even trying to detract from worthy causes is going to make want to care less about saving the whales or saving a tree in the rainforest, you’re not giving me much credit to think for myself. Or most people watching the ad for that matter.
Come on. Ads don’t instantly brainwash us from our existing principles. They can offer persuasive arguments that cause us to investigate further and in time they can shape behavior as a result. Sure, part of the immediate response that Groupon did get from some folks was to instantly stop using the service. That was their right to do. But there are also those of us who can actually have it both ways – to understand what Groupon was trying to say in its message and appreciating it while understanding the importance of social causes at the same time. It doesn’t make us bad people to have this dual understanding or stay loyal to Groupon.
Brands have a right to try to be provocative when they have only 30 seconds to do so and are spending $3 million each time. Being offensive should not be on the agenda — but right or wrong, I do not believe this was Groupon’s first and foremost goal.
Political commentators on cable networks can say practically anything they wish over the span of several hours, even drawing parallels that push the boundaries of good taste. They do it almost every day. But a company runs an ad lasting a mere 30 seconds that we don’t agree with, so let’s call for their heads? I don’t think so.
These ads aren’t going to bring about the end of anything. Certainly not Groupon. Groupon has a strong product and if anything, it is possibly the most talked-about ad the morning after the Super Bowl. I realize that some of that talk is very negative. But there are other voices in the crowd saying, “Lighten up. It’s just a commercial.”