Thursday, February 10, 2011

Groupon Lesson: Shock Value = Lots of Publicity for Your Brand. But At What Price?

Groupon's Super Bowl Commercial

"Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers - it's bad business and it's not where our hearts are."
- Statement from Groupon's CEO in response to the outcry over Groupon's Super Bowl commercial trivializing suffering in Tibet

When you look over the fallout from Groupon's offensive Super Bowl ad, you should ask yourself, could all of this have been foreseen and avoided? Even if Groupon's management was incapable of discerning that such a commercial was likely to offend many people, wouldn't some simple ad testing prior to running this spot have given Groupon a good indication that it was a bad idea? Even more, how could a competent marketer have such incredibly poor judgment to let something like this happen?

First, consider the agency responsible for the creative. Crispin Porter + Bogusky is an agency that has no equal when it comes to using shock value advertising to gain publicity. In fact, they seem to have adopted the old adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity" as their guiding mission. (Of course, execs from Enron, Arthur Andersen and BP might disagree with that kind of wisdom, as well as Lindsey's and Mel's publicists.) They're the agency behind the Burger King campaign that featured commercials using a fictitious band called Coq Roq and the related microsite with girls who looked around 14 years old fawning over the band with the copy "Groupies love the Coq." Not surprisingly, that offended a great deal of parents who regularly take their kids to Burger King (BK later took removed the image in response to bad publicity and consumer protests). Several years ago, I made a post about that Burger King campaign with very similar observations to the Groupon commercial in terms of the campaign's brand recklessness.

When your target market is the general US adult population -- not twenty something males you're trying to get to buy beer, condoms or foul smelling antiperspirant -- and you're using commercials airing during the most watched television broadcast in US history, the 2011 Super Bowl, it's a good idea to get it right the first time and not use that air time to experiment with shock value creative mocking the suffering of a very large group of people that I suspect was never tested prior to running this spot. The incredible amount of negative social media mentions of Groupon as fallout from the commercial, the parodies on late night tv (see below for a hilarious spoof of the commercial from Conan) and even the opportunity this has turned into for Groupon's major competitor, LivingSocial, to take the spotlight in a very positive way, all could have been easily predicted in testing.

Now don't take that to mean that I blame the creative agency for this going out the door. No, even though I think the creative agency deserves some of the blame, the buck stops with the top marketer of the client organization. That is the person responsible for green lighting this creative execution, putting it in front of the CEO and persuading him that it was a good idea. That's a voice that should not be trusted again.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Letter to

My dearest,

All this time, I really thought you knew me better.

In our more than ten year relationship, I've always been impressed with your abilities. How you pay attention to me and what I do. You're always offering up some kind of related advice, some attempts at helpful suggestions that relate to our past experience. I was beginning to think you understood me and my needs, at least a little, and because of that, I rewarded you with more attention. 

But last weekend, all of that changed. You crossed a line that I never expected you to cross. You were insensitive and irrelevant. It was like getting a call from a friend who just attended your grandmother's funeral a week ago only to call today and say, "H. How's your grandmother doing?" It wasn't just a little oversight, it was much more personal than that. 

In the past, I've regularly trusted your advice  -- and you violated that trust to the point where I wonder if our relationship will ever be the same again or if you'll continue to reveal just how much you don't understand me.  After more than ten years, knowing that I am a Chicago area resident and a sports fan, you committed an act that is either callous or just plain insensitive -- and your timing couldn't have been worse. 

I thought for a minute, "Perhaps this is a practical joke?" as I examined your email to me littered with Green Bay Packers jerseys, giant foam cheese wedge hats and other merchandise officially licensed by the team that just weeks ago unmercifully killed my little boy's dream of seeing the Chicago Bears go to the Super Bowl. Beyond me, a lifelong Chicago area resident, the rivalry between the Bears and Packers is extremely well known, so it is surprising to me that you (or even the most junior level marketer involved in this email campaign) would not the least bit aware of this well known bit of information -- or even do a little research -- when you made the  "helpful" recommendations contained in your email. 

One thing is now clear, even with all of our history, you really never knew me. Perhaps your mind wandered unto something else, but clearly, you haven't been paying attention to me and you're no longer communicating effectively with me. It's going to take some time to rebuild the kind of trust we once had again. I mean, how could I trust you now that you've shown such insensitivity and have started to show signs that your words are something I cannot forgive, irrelevant.