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Groupon CEO: Our ‘Tibet’ Super Bowl ad was just misunderstood

TIBET_Timothy-Hutton-grouponIn the wake of the tidal wave of negative criticism that followed Groupon‘s “Tibet” Super Bowl commercial, the coupon company says the ads were intended, not to offend, but to enlighten.

In case you missed it: Groupon ran a commercial during CBS’s broadcast of the Super Bowl on Sunday, which seemed to tactlessly equate the long-time suffering of people in Tibet with the ability of Groupon users to save money at a Tibetan restaurant.

Immediately after the ad aired, the Internet exploded with negative feedback. Bloggers took to their keyboards to lambaste Groupon’s poor choice in ads. In fact, everyone, it seemed, from the ever-cynical Gawker to both Chinese and Tibetan activists, found something offensive about the ad.

Turns out, the whole thing was just one big misunderstanding. As Groupon CEO Andrew Mason explained on the company blog before the commercial hit the air, the “Tibet” spot — as well as three other versions,  released on Groupon’s SaveTheMoney.org, which give commercial whaling, rain forest deforestation, and severe poverty equal treatment — was intended to poke fun at Groupon itself, not the plight of an oppressed people, or any other serious cause.

Well, that wasn’t enough to stop the flow of negative feedback drowning the post-game conversation, so Mason returned to the blog late yesterday to address his company’s critics:

We take the causes we highlighted extremely seriously – that’s why we created this campaign in partnership with many hallmark community organizations, for whom we’re raising money at SaveTheMoney.org. Groupon’s roots are in social activism…In our two short years as a business, we’ve already raised millions of dollars for national charities like Donors Choose and Kiva.

When we think about commercials that offend us, we think of those that glorify antisocial behavior – like the scores of Super Bowl ads that are built around the crass objectification of women. Unlike those ads, no one walks away from our commercials taking the causes we highlighted less seriously. Not a single person watched our ad and concluded that it’s cool to kill whales. In fact – and this is part of the reason we ran them – they have the opposite effect.

Regardless of whether the effect they had was “opposite” or not, it certainly wasn’t what Groupon intended. Hopefully for them, their customers will forgive their comedic ineptitude — or just forget all about this as soon as they save some cash. Speaking of which, is anyone hungry for some Tibetan food?