There’s a line in one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, “Angry Young Man”, that reads “it’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.” That is where I am going to start regarding my opinion of the recent Groupon/Super Bowl ad controversy and Andrew Mason.
If you haven’t seen it or are unaware of the issue, deal-of-the-day website Groupon ran a series of ads that many viewers found offensive. The reason for the negative response is because the ads appear to mock serious social issues.
In response to the public outcry, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason posted a blog explaining the company’s reasoning for the ads.
As I mentioned earlier, Mason clearly explained the ads are meant to, “highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon.” Mason goes on to compare the campaign, created by ad firm Crispin Porter & Bogusky, to another CP+B Super bowl ad for Hulu. This is where Mason meets his colossal #FAIL point.
The Hulu ad is clearly a joke. It’s a very well conceived and brilliantly delivered, tongue-in-cheek look at TV consumption in America. The audience walks away from the ad knowing that Hulu is poking fun at both themselves and the viewers.
The new Groupon ads do not do that. They don’t even come close.
If you look at them collectively, it is possible to see a theme develop. However, for individuals seeing the ads for the first time, the impact is almost horrific. They come across as at the very least confusing and at their worst, downright insulting.
Mason’s failure was allowing CP+B to affect his voice as well as his vision. Groupon tried to be clever and witty with their ads and the juxtaposition they paint between serious issues and penny-pinching consumerism. What they failed to consider is that social awareness is not meant to be the subject of “Ha ha. Just kidding.” antics.
It’s ironic that a company that has succeeded by providing value to its customers failed to understand that value, in and of itself, exists because of emotion. Value is psychological, and without the emotion we place on a particular good or service, there is no such thing as value.
Social awareness and giving, in turn, is wholly emotional. Millions of people sacrifice their time, money, and at times their very own lives, for causes and efforts in which they deeply believe. Social good bleeds emotion, and it is not something that should be treated with flippant disregard, as was the case with the Groupon ad campaign.
Sure, Andrew Mason can look back and try to retrospectively justify his company’s decision as one of raising awareness for issues while poking fun at themselves. He can attempt to rationalize the campaign by claiming the ads are different and not about traditional self-promotion. Mason may even employ service recovery actions to make clear the ads are indeed about social awareness.
The fact remains, however, the decision to employ this ad campaign was to deliberately create buzz about his company, be it positive or negative. It was a $3 million* investment in creating brand awareness. It was a move designed for the benefit of Groupon at the expense of the millions of people who are emotionally invested in social good and social awareness.
With every action or decision, intention is important. Andrew Mason did not intend to offend his audience. But in a way, he really did.