Feb 112011

Groupon - too sensitive to ridiculous protest

Whether it be due to their outrageous cost, or the huge audience that watches them, making television advertisements to show on the Super Bowl represents one of the highest stakes biggest challenges for corporations and their advertising agencies.

A 30 second Super Bowl ad in 2011 cost about $3 million to show, and it probably had over a $1 million budget to produce.  Add other fees, agency charges, and whatever else, and these ads are running easily $5 million.

But in return, advertisers get an audience of (in 2011) 110 million viewers, and the massive prestige associated with being a Super Bowl advertiser.

The objective is to make an ad that ‘goes viral’ – an ad that people talk about and remember, and the way to do it is to make an ad that is unusual, distinctive, humorous, and even perhaps a bit controversial.

The hype (and reality) of Super Bowl advertising is such that there are even websites out there dedicated to collections of Super Bowl ads, trivia, discussions, and everything else imaginable.

This year saw a series of three Super Bowl advertisements for a startup web company, ‘Groupon’.  This company sells you discount coupons for local businesses, and they are currently one of the ‘hot’ new dot com companies, particularly after having turned down a buy-out offer from Google, who offered them an extraordinary $6 billion for their company in December 2010.

Why not have a look at one, two, or all three of their Super Bowl ads before reading on the rest of this commentary so you can form your own opinion before reading on.  Here they are :

Groupon Tibet Superbowl Ad

Groupon Rainforest Super Bowl ad

Groupon Whales Super Bowl Ad

So, what do you think?  A bit cheesy, perhaps?  But otherwise inoffensive and generally unremarkable?

Actually, what I first thought was that they were maladroit attempts at political correctness, first getting a big name star to pay some lipservice to a ‘social issue’ that liberals get all stressed about, then offering a way to save money on something which was slightly amusingly related.

But offensive?  Should they be pulled from subsequent repeat playings?  Not in a million years.

However, the more gentle and easily upset delicate souls in our country – the ones who might be gentle and easily upset, but who then are not at all gentle in their demands for the world to change and conform to their own special view of what is right and proper – disagree with me (yet again).

The world's tiniest violin?

It seems that Groupon suffered from lots of criticism that these ads were ‘making light of the plight’ of the three subjects featured.  Time to play a tune on my tiny violin, I think.

And so, as a result, Groupon is now pulling their ads and apologizing profusely to anyone and everyone who imagines they may have been offended by the advertisements (see article).  I’m not sure who are the bigger fools – those who managed to be offended, or Groupon for capitulating to their demands.

Now, for sure, this isn’t a First Amendment issue, at least not directly, per se.  But it gets perilously close, because what we have here is a pressure group of people who imagine they are offended by something and then successfully demand a company change its promotion to conform with their specific view of what is right and proper.

Freedom includes the freedom to be offensive, and freedom requires us to accept the risk of sometimes taking offense at something we encounter.  And that wonderful liberal construct – the multicultural society – surely requires us to accept and allow different groups to act in ways they choose, without seeking to censor or silence them.

But, as we all know, ‘multi-cultural’ is code for ‘we must embrace un-American views while not requiring people to consider pro-American concepts at all’; we must hide American flags but welcome Mexican ones, etc.

Most of all, what happened to our sense of humor, and our ability to laugh at things rather than become grievously offended by them?