Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fair Weather (Business) Friends

Oh Groupon, how I love your amazing deals but hate your media relations.  If you haven’t seen the Groupon commercial I’m about to discuss, please take a look:

This is an assigned topic for my ethics class, however, I’ve been following the Groupon Superbowl commercial controversy since it aired simply based on my own interest.  Personally, the commercial shocked me as soon as it aired.  Without missing a beat, I immediately tweeted my frustration. 

Now that the dust has settled, this is what we know:

  • The Crispin Porter & Bogusky (CP&B) agency was hired by Groupon to create an edgy and informative advertisement for Groupon
  • The contract designed for Crispin Porter & Bogusky was project based (meaning this contract naturally would end- Groupon didn’t fire them)

What I didn’t know:
  • After reading Groupon CEO: We Placed Too Much Trust in Agency for Super Bowl Ads, I found out CP&B also did Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” advertisements which gave people who have never had a whopper a chance to try it.  The Thai villagers being one of those people.  This advertisement was surrounded with controversy simply because people thought they didn’t respect the hunger issues surrounding Thailand. 
  • CP&B also did the Hulu advertisements that, “highlighted the idea that TV rots your brain, making fun of Hulu.”
  • They ALSO did the Dominos Pizza commercials portraying the idea that the former recipe for pizza was bad. 
Are we seeing a trend here?  The agency is notorious for the skeptical, and, at times, controversial portrayals of the brand they are promoting.  They have found success using this method and, as the article details, the Groupon “ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon."

Now, knowing their reputation, Groupon hires CP&B and what do they do?  They throw them under the bus saying they placed too much trust in the agency "to be edgy, informative and entertaining.”  Groupon founder Andrew Mason goes on to say, “We turned off the part of our brain where we should have made our own decisions. We learned that you can't rely on anyone else to control and maintain your own brand."

Seriously guys?  This really grinds me gears!  Now that I’ve been interning at an advertising agency, I’ve come to realize MANY ideas get tossed in the trash even though they might be an agency favorite.  The client is always the ultimate decision-maker.  CP&B did what they do best, and Groupon, for some reason, didn’t have the hindsight to see this advertisement may not be the best representation for the brand.  That part of your brain Mason claims to have turned off should NEVER be turned off.

So once I think I’ve got this all figured out, I come across this article in Bloomberg Businessweek, “Groupon Chief Defends Marketing Approach” Huh?  What I didn’t know about Groupon is the founder, Mason, is quite the unique character.  The company sees Mason “as a serial prankster, dedicating office space to a fictitious character, hiring a performance artist to walk around the headquarters in a tutu and dreaming up a holiday called Grouponicus whose celebrants are barred from owning dogs.”

So how do we wrap this all up, put a bow on it, and conclude this mess?  In my opinion, Mason OK’ed the advertisement because it fit his personality.  What he didn’t realize was his personality may not completely mirror the personality of the brand.  If he needed an advertising agency to do commercials on the Mason persona, CP&B would have been a great choice.  To attribute the negative viewer reaction to “too much trust” in the agency is absolutely ridiculous.  Viewers are notorious for forgiving companies who immediately take responsibility for their actions.  All Groupon had to do was say, “We used poor judgement in selecting a commercial for Groupon, we sincerely apologize,” blah, blah, blah. 

Is this going to stop me from using Groupon? No way! I have a $15 massage voucher I’ve been meaning to cash in!  However, I did lose a respect for them as a marketing/advertising entity.

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