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Groupon pulling controversial Super Bowl ads

February 11, 2011 |  1:02 pm

GrouponTibetAd

Groupon's Super Bowl ads have been seen by many as a fumble on the part of the increasingly influential website.

So, on Friday, Groupon Chief Executive Andrew Mason called an audible and ditched the controversial advertising campaign.

"Five days have passed since the Super Bowl, and one thing is clear –- our ads offended a lot of people," Mason wrote in a company blog post on Friday. "Tuesday I posted an explanation, but as many of you have pointed out, if an ad requires an explanation, that means it didn't work."

The campaign of three ads, which first aired during the NFL championship game Sunday, featured actors speaking about current political, environmental and social issues before shifting their remarks to discounts on related products bought via Groupon.

The ads, which spoofed public service announcements, were meant to mock the Chicago-based company's roots as a company that raised funds for different social causes -- originally known as thepoint.com, Mason said.

"We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn't come through," Mason said. "I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads."

One of the most disliked ads of the campaign was a spot in which Timothy Hutton says, "The people of Tibet are in trouble, 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 each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago."

Groupon has promised it will run less polarizing ads going forward.

"We hate that we offended people, and we're very sorry that we did -– it's the last thing we wanted," Mason wrote. "We've listened to your feedback, and since we don't see the point in continuing to anger people, we're pulling the ads (a few may run again tomorrow –- pulling ads immediately is sometimes impossible)." 

The ads were launched with a website, savethemoney.org, that displayed the three ads and teased a fourth that never aired. But the site was never mentioned in the ads, leading many to not even know it existed. The site was taken down on Friday and the URL now re-directs users back to Groupon.com.

Despite the low awareness of savethemoney.org, Groupon said it expected to have raised about $500,000 for the groups linked to on the site: the Tibet Fund, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network.

"While we've always been a little quirky, we certainly aren't trying to be the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy –- we think the quality of our product is a much stronger message," Mason wrote.

RELATED:

Groupon criticized for Super Bowl ads making light of Tibet, whales, the rainforest

Groupon reaches $950 million in financing

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: A screen capture of Timothy Hutton in Groupon's first national offline advertising campaign, which debuted during the Super Bowl on Sunday. Credit: Groupon / Business Wire

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