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Did Groupon's Super Bowl ad go too far? [Updated]

If the Dalai Lama was watching the Super Bowl, he probably wasn't laughing at Groupon's ad. The spot featured actor Timothy Hutton, speaking in an ultra-serious tone, and making light of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, a situation many find morally contemptuous. "The people of Tibet are in trouble," he said. "Their very culture is in jeopardy ... but they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com, we're getting $30 of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago."

Funny? Some people didn't think so. A few minutes after the ad aired, a backlash quickly ignited on Twitter. Watch the clip above and tell us what you think: Was the ad in poor taste?

[Updated at 8:55 a.m.: Groupon responds on its website and offers to match donations to the Tibet Fund: "The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?

“Since we grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site (ThePoint.com) and ended up selling coupons, we loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause. So we bought the spots, hired mockumentary expert Christopher Guest to direct them, enlisted some celebrity faux-philanthropists, and plopped down three Groupon ads before, during, and after the biggest American football game in the world.

“You can view the already-aired commercials, as well as new ones as we release them, at SaveTheMoney.org. And if you’ve saved enough money for yourself and feel like saving something else, you can donate to mission-driven organizations that are doing great work for the causes featured in our PSA parodies. If you guys pony up, Groupon will contribute matching donations of up to $100,000 for three featured charities -- Rainforest Action Network, buildOn, and the Tibet Fund -- and Groupon credit of up to $100,000 for contributions made to Greenpeace.”]

-- Melissa Maerz

Comments () | Archives (30)

I like the ads. Got your attention to the cause, didn't it? So as they seemed to have intended, now you can go donate to that cause directly from their web site with the money you saved using a groupon.

Hmm...perhaps this is life imitating art. After all, TH was seen at the end of "The Last Holiday", in some kind of Asian monastery, attoning for his business sins. As a typical empty-headed actor, he probaby feels this pseudo- experience qualifies him to feel "at-one" with the Tibetan pepole, assuming he's aware enough of contemporary events to even know they're fighting Chinese opporession. What a schmuck!

Nope. I didn't get the joke when it was aired. Right after "Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago", about a dozen of us at the party let out a collective "Damn..." then followed by a variety of "that was low/harsh" or "really, Groupon?"

Poking fun at yourself is one thing. That? That wasn't cool.

A lot of people are offended by these commercials, so I do think Groupon went too far this time. I can see how they were supposed to be funny, but I don't think it worked for them.
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We have become a nation of Wussies.

For a person whose country was stolen, whose fundamental human rights are severly violated, and whose cultural heritage is facing denocide, any voice in support of the downtrodden like us is much appreciated, even if it is done in poor taste. In a way, it reminds me of Marlin Brando and Richard Gere's stunts -- during the Academy Awards decades ago -- trying to highlight the plight of those suffering injustice. Cheers groupon, you guys have heart and conscience.

I canceled by Groupon subscription and will not be purchasing from them again.

No apology from Groupon = No purchases from me.

If Groupon had been smart, they could have saved all this backlash by offering to match contributions to those charities *in the commercials.* They could have been funny and charitable, winning good will from both sides of the argument. There's a term for what it did instead: fail.

Thank you, Groupon for standing up the Tibetan people. Free Tibet

I am Tibetan. I don't care what others think about this ads. To me you have shown to the world true plight of Tibetan people. I thank you from from the bottom of my heart on behalf of all those Tibetan suffering under china.

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