Alright. I give! I wasn’t going to blog about the Groupon Super Bowl ad, but here I am.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is. Watch it quickly for me. Go on. It’s only 30 seconds.

Honestly? It didn’t bother me as much as it seems to have bothered CNN, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and more. Then again, I’m not a China or Tibet advocate. Not that I don’t want freedom of speech and civil rights for every human being. It’s just not something I go out and rally for during my free time. Sure, I rolled my eyes. I even said out loud, “What was that?” But I didn’t find it offensive.

There were two other ads…one with Elizabeth Hurley talking about Amazon rain forests and one with Cuba Gooding Jr talking about the dwindling number of whales.

Seems alright, each one by itself, doesn’t it? The problem? Then they each go to exclaim that they got a deal with Groupon discounts, with Hurley even exclaiming, “not all deforestation is bad” while getting a bikini wax.

Tacky? Yes. Insensitive? Completely. Clever (which is what Groupon is claiming)? Um. No.

But the reason I finally got suckered into blogging is not because of the ads, but in how Groupon has handled the criticism. And, as we all know, Spin Sucks.

Have you seen Andrew Mason’s “apology?” It actually stops short of an apology, implying instead that if you didn’t get the ads, you’re just not smart. In a written, and carefully crafted letter (which I’m sure went through several rounds of drafts from their attorneys), he says, “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?” He then points out how these campaigns benefited certain charitable campaigns.

I’m the first one to admit that even I, on occasion, need adult supervision. But these guys REALLY need adult supervision.

Where is their public apology, that’s not handled by the attorneys? Where are the actual words “we’re sorry?”  Where is their experienced PR counsel? Where is the sensitivity to, oh I don’t know, the fact that they’re a social company but being as anti-social as possible? Liz Strauss said it best when she gave her advice on how to heal this very public black eye.

You know what I think? I think this was another ego play in a long line of arrogance. It’s no surprise that I think walking away from the Google $6B deal was about as dumb as they come (and I’m willing to bet my life that they never see that kind of money again, even on the open market). I think this was a “HEY! We can have a Super Bowl ad! How cool is that? And we’ll work with the coolest ad agency around (Crispin Porter & Bogusky). We’ve arrived!”

But I leave you with one thought. The last time venture-backed dot com companies spent a ton of money on a Super Bowl ad to be cool, instead of growing their business, was in 2000. This game is often referred to as the “dot com” Super Bowl because it was held during the height of the dot-com bubble, and several Internet companies purchased television commercials. famously paid millions featuring a sock puppet. And where is today? Oh yeah. They went out of business.

You hear that? It’s the bubble. About to burst.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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