The Super Bowl's "worst" ad had an important message that TV viewers didn't see, says Groupon CEO Andrew Mason.
The Groupon ad, one of three, featured actor Timothy Hutton talking about the plight of the people of Tibet, only to turn it into a pitch for saving money on Tibetan food.
"Mountainous Tibet: one of the most beautiful places in the world," says Hutton in the commercial. "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."
Most viewers thought Groupon was making light of the political troubles faced by the Tibetan people. The website Super Bowl Nation called it the worst ad of the evening.
But according to Groupon's Mason, the ads were misread. He says the company was making fun of itself — and the genre of celebrity endorsements — and that Groupon is raising money for the very causes that viewers thought the company was mocking.
"We actually began as cause-based website called The Point," Mason wrote on his blog, "and we continue to use Groupon to support local causes with our G-Team initiative. In our two short years as a business, we've already raised millions of dollars for national charities like Donors Choose and Kiva."
Groupon spent $3 million on its three Super Bowl commercials, according to the The Wall Street Journal. The other two ads in the series featured Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Elizabeth Hurley using similar tactics while talking about whales and the rainforest. In fact, Mason wrote, "organizations like Greenpeace, buildOn, The Tibet Fund and the Rainforest Action Network all decided to throw their support behind the campaign."
In what the Chicago Tribune called a "critical gaffe," the commercials made no mention of any of those campaigns.
Further defending the ads, Mason wrote, "We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes — even if we didn't take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?"
Groupon isn't giving up on the campaign. Mason says the endings of the three ads will be adjusted to encourage fundraising rather than ire, writing, "We hope you'll head over to SaveTheMoney.org and make a donation (which we'll match) — we're hoping to raise a lot of money."
You can watch the original version of the Timothy Hutton ad here: