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Groupon Super Bowl ad stirs controversy

by Shannon Harris on February 8, 2011

They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. If that's true, Groupon is about to find out.

Many consumers are up in arms about the allegedly tactless approach the online coupon company took to its advertising during Super Bowl XLV, which seemed to make light of the problems faced by the people of Tibet.

The 30-second ad, which cost Groupon upward of $3 million, featured sweeping views of Tibet with a voice-over feigning concern over the plight of the people of the region. However, soon after exclaiming that the Tibetan people's culture is in jeopardy, Academy Award-winning actor Timothy Hutton began the pitch.

"But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on Groupon.com, we're getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15," he said to the viewers.

ABC News reports that the internet immediately blew up with outrage over the tongue-in-cheek approach of a serious subject, and its other two ads, which lampooned saving whales and the Brazilian rain forest, did not fare much better in terms of public perception.

Groupon was quick to defend itself, pointing out that the website began as an effort to help form groups to raise money for charities. Furthermore, it urges consumers on its website to donate to the three causes that were featured in its ad: The Tibet Fund, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. The charity section of the website went up before the ads ran, and the company's spokesperson said that it had the organizations' permission to run the ads in the first place.

"It has always been the foundation of the campaign," the spokesperson told the news source. "We would never have run the ads without these organizations' support and a way for our subscribers to contribute to their causes." 

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