The Super Bowl was supposed to be Groupon's coming out party. Instead the hottest startup in the world bombed in front of millions of viewers with a trio of lackluster, borderline offensive television ads.
“Mountainous Tibet - one of the most beautiful places in the world," the worst of the Groupon ads begins. "This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on Groupon.com we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.”
Twitter users and bloggers immediately responded that the advertisement was outrageous and insensitive and on Monday morning more astute publications panned the Tibet ad as the night's biggest loser.
Everything PR dubbed it the Super Bowl's lamest commercial.
The Wall Street Journal noted the rapid backlash against the advertisement and suggested the ad would do Groupon no favors in trying to expand into China.
The London Telegraph said the ad made light of Tibet's suffering. The New York Times asked if the advertisement crossed the line of insensitivity.
Groupon may have prevented this backlash if they disclosed a little more information: The ad is actually part of the campany's Save the Money campaign, in which the company matches donations to select charities, including the Tibet Fund. Without an explanation, the commercial seemed tasteless.
Expectations were high, too.
Groupon snuck into the Super Bowl ad mix at the last second and created a buzz by announcing that Spinal Tap director Christopher Guest would direct.
But the buzz failed. Other commercials in the Groupon stable played on similar themes. Cuba Gooding Jr. used the "Save the Whales" campaign to hock a sightseeing trip and Elizabeth Hurley used the issue of Amazonian deforestation to discuss Brazilian waxing.
After the Tibet ad ran, Twitter users began urging people to unsubscribe from the group buying web site directly after the airing.
The company's post Super Bowl tweets might not help the situation.
A click through to the Brand Bowl stats, however, shows that Groupon received mostly negative feedback.
The company is preparing to release a fourth commercial featuring Sheryl Crow soon.