Groupon Causes Controversy

Groupon, the deal-of-the-day website building collective buying power in geographical locations around the world, has withdrawn three controversial commercials released in association with the 2011 Super Bowl. The television ads, featuring Timothy Hutton, Cuba Gooding and Liz Hurley, presented ways of saving money in the context (or perhaps out context) of respected causes.

Groupon Timothy Hutton in Tibet advertisement

Hutton speaks about the plight of those living in Tibet before spruiking good deals on Tibetan curry in Chicago. Gooding talks about the fight to save the whales before launching into a sales pitch for whale watch cruises. Liz Hurley highlights the vulnerability of rain forest before promoting good deals on Brazilian waxes. What most people don’t know is the behind-the-scenes online campaign designed to raise funds through group deals for The Tibet Fund, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network. The self-deprecating humour was lost on the American public.

Click on the image below to play the Timothy Hutton video.

Click on the image below to play the Whale Watch with Cuba Gooding video.

Click on the image below to play the Rainforest with Liz Hurley video.

Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon, responded to criticisms of the campaign before withdrawing the commercials from television screens and the Groupon YouTube channel.

“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 Groupon’s roots are in social activism – we actually began as cause-based website called The Point, and we continue to use Groupon to support local causes with our G-Team initiative. 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.

Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. Why make fun of ourselves? Because it’s different – ads are traditionally about shameless self promotion, and we’ve always strived to have a more honest and respectful conversation with our customers. We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes – even if we didn’t take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?”

We took this approach knowing that, if anything, they would bring more funding and support to the highlighted causes. That’s why organizations like Greenpeace, buildOn, The Tibet Fund, and the Rainforest Action Network all decided to throw their support behind the campaign. In fact, the feedback led us to make changes to the end of our ads that further encourage our fundraising. To that point, if the ads affected you, we hope you’ll head over to and make a donation (which we’ll match) – we’re hoping to raise a lot of money.

Groupon Greenpeace Fundraising

Groupon Rainforest Action Network Fundraising

Groupon The Tibet Fund Fundraising

Groupon Buildon Fundraising


The Groupon Super Bowl campaign was developed at Crispin Porter + Bogusky by worldwide creative officer Rob Reilly, group creative directors Dave Schiff and Alex Burnard, creative director Jason Levine and Justin Smith and Dayoung Yun, art director Justin Smith and Dustin Tomes, copywriter Scott Kaplan, Jason Levine and John Benedict and Harrison Luongtran, senior integrated producer Sloan Schroeder, junior integrated producer Clare Grimwood.

Filming was shot by director Christopher Guest via Go Film with executive producer Gary Rose and Jonathan Weinstein, line producer Leah Fleischmann, director of photography Roberto Schaefer, executive integrated producer Bill Meadows.

Post production was done at Method Studios. Editor was Jason Macdonald at Number 6, New York, with assistant editor JC Nunez. Post audio was done at POP Sound, Santa Monica.

Animation was done at Buck. Telecine was produced at The Moving Picture Company.