Groupon pulls controversial Tibet ad

By Wailin Wong
Posted Feb. 11 at 8:33 a.m.

Groupon Inc. Chief Executive Andrew Mason said the Chicago-based daily deals provider is pulling all of the Super Bowl ads that had provoked a negative reaction online earlier this week.

“We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did – it’s the last thing we wanted,” Mason wrote in a blog post on Thursday, adding: “We will run something less polarizing instead. We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through. I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads.”

The tone of Mason’s blog post and the decision to yank the ads marked a more contrite stance than the one he took on Monday, when he tried offering an explanation of the ads’ humor and noted that they weren’t as offensive as other Super Bowl commercials that objectify women. Mason said removing the ads was a response to consumer feedback, which indicated that viewers were still upset even after his Monday explanation.

The Super Bowl ads were intended to be spoofs of celebrity-narrated public service announcements, and featured stars such as Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth Hurley talking about serious humanitarian or environmental issues in one moment and then switching to blithe chatter about a Groupon discount. In the case of the Tibet ad, which captured the brunt of the backlash, Hutton went from bemoaning Tibetans’ human rights crisis to touting a fish curry he ate at a Chicago restaurant.

The ads were intended to draw attention to a philanthropic campaign Groupon is running with several partner charities: The Tibet Fund, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network and buildOn, which constructs schools in developing countries. But the message was lost on many viewers because the Web address for the donations site never appeared on the original ads, nor did the spots mention the organizations. The Web site Groupon had set up,, now redirects viewers to Groupon’s main site.

Groupon amended the ads this week to make the donations Web address clearer, and heavily promoted the giving campaign on social media and through its regular e-mails. The company is matching donations up to $100,000 for three of the organizations, and providing up to $100,000 in Groupon credit for donations to Greenpeace. The Greenpeace deal sold out on Thursday evening with 6,667 vouchers sold. Friday’s featured charity is the Rainforest Action Network.

The partner organizations have publicly stood by Groupon, saying they understood the ads were meant to be tongue-in-cheek and that they appreciate the awareness Groupon is bringing to their causes.


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  1. Cheryl Feb. 11 at 9:00 a.m.

    Hmmm…just saw that Elizabeth Hurley/rainforest deforestation Groupon ad. Still pretty tastless. I’m not sure how anyone thought this was a good idea.

  2. fred Feb. 11 at 9:07 a.m.

    What took them so long? Did Groupon NOT notice theres other companies doing discount deals.

  3. JR Feb. 11 at 9:07 a.m.

    Groupon needs to pull the Brazilian Rainforest ad as well…very tasteless and an insult to the Brazilian people.

    Groupon needs to come to terms they f’d up, make amends, and move on.

  4. Charles Feb. 11 at 9:20 a.m.

    What’s really polarizing is that this company supposedly serving all people are really only concern with appeasing the scared dim-witted enviro-sissies out there with little sense of humor or tolerance for others. The Lib-Nazis are very effective in keeping others on message.

  5. Dweezle25 Feb. 11 at 9:20 a.m.

    Why do you people take EVERYTHING so seriously? I didn’t find it really that funny, but I also didn’t find it bad. Yes, they are having hardships over there.. but we’re having hardships over here too. Jeesh, learn to take a joke. If it’s not literally hurting anyone, who cares?

  6. BDub Feb. 11 at 9:21 a.m.

    JR, I think the story states they are pulling ALL ads that offended people.

  7. humorsome Feb. 11 at 9:41 a.m.

    @ Dweezle I agree with you completely. We have become an overly sensitive nation and its scary. nobody can take a joke :(

  8. MH Feb. 11 at 9:48 a.m.

    We need to take a chill pill. Everyone is quick to ruin companies. We are up tight about everything. Seems someone if offened over everything these days. I am going to go and watch Burr Rabbit oh I forgot that movie was ban here in the US

  9. reality Feb. 11 at 9:53 a.m.

    “We thought we were poking fun at ourselves”

    They need some lessons in humor. Self deprecating humor DOES NOT include someone elses tragedy. This mistake usually happens with egomaniacs.

  10. Laugh Feb. 11 at 9:55 a.m.

    I thought it was the best commercial of the night, hands down. It was a joke. It was supposed to be funny. Everyone needs to lighten up and enjoy life for once. Stop taking everything so seriously. Embrace humor for once or go on living your sad lives where there is no happiness/humor/fun.

  11. marymary Feb. 11 at 9:57 a.m.

    Groupon -selling stupid needless products at a discount to people who dont have the money to pay for them. I smell a dot com bust very soon.

  12. David Feb. 11 at 9:59 a.m.

    I would bet it is an extremely small amount of people who are being over dramatic and pretending to really care or even know the issue.

    The commercial was effective. These drama queens have their panties in a knot on an issue that even the Tibet Fund is not so bothered by. I think they are more grateful than anything that their cause has been brought to the forefront.

    From the Tibet Fund Web page: “Whether you agree with Groupon’s creative choices, the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and funds to help Tibetan refugees who are struggling with the very real problem of survival outside their homeland.”

    Have you drama queens donated for something you pretend to care about or are you going to continue with your feigned shock?

  13. Gyatso Feb. 11 at 10:06 a.m.

    @Dweezle, humorsome, and MH, I don’t think we’re an “overly sensitive nation.” I think we’re going in the exact opposite direction, with the outcry over this ad as the exception proving the rule, perhaps in part because of the anonymity provided by the Internet (yes, I know that I’m anonymous too, but I don’t want those with such complete ignorance to vent their obvious aggression my way). I suggest that you read The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk to get a sense of the very real torture and genocide going on to this day in Tibet. Then, just maybe, if you have any empathy, you may have a better sense of how truly offensive the ad is.

  14. tucsonbill Feb. 11 at 10:23 a.m.

    OK, so I am a liberal. But this was just one in a series of edgy jokes that we all play from time to time. If you want to get to the really tasteless stuff, try Ricky Gervais’ mc’ing recently. Now that’s tastless!
    I think Groupon did the right thing for their reputation given the response from the public. But I think this is an overreaction.

  15. Ryan Feb. 11 at 10:24 a.m.

    Gyatso, get over yourself. It was not mocking the Tibetan situation, but celebrities. Reactions like yours do not help generate sympathy for said causes.

    Oh and most people are either unaware or don’t care about any of these issues. They are much too busy dealing with their own crisises’ and tragedies to worry about what’s happening half a world away.

  16. Triceratop Feb. 11 at 10:30 a.m.

    I think Mr. Mason just doesn’t get it, nor does his agency, CP&B. It is not that it was polarizing, which would suggest that there existed a camp of appreciative viewers. He didn’t have any. He confused edgy with just plain in-your-face dumb.

  17. babiesequalchecks Feb. 11 at 10:40 a.m.

    To all you that think this is so offensive – get a life!

  18. Char Czarnecki Feb. 11 at 11:00 a.m.

    I think all of the recent Groupon ads are offensive. I usually have a great sense of humor, but these ads are not funny. I’m surprised these respected actors would participate. I think they should all be pulled.

  19. Joey Y Feb. 11 at 11:05 a.m.

    So sad that anyone would call this an overreaction. There’s nothing funny about what’s happened to Tibet. That’s like airing a commercial about concentration camps and then saying “but hey, you can save money buying Matzo!” Not funny, not even funny in a juvenile way when an entire culture is being completely destroyed and tens of thousands killed by a neighboring country. Still think it’s all in good fun?

  20. Tim Smith Feb. 11 at 11:21 a.m.

    Groupon didn’t do anything wrong other than state the facts. The fact that some moved here because they claimed refuge from Tibet, they’re now making great food at restaurants and through Groupon you can get a discount for it. Instead of people complaining about Groupon for an ad of stating the obvious about Tibet, how about actually doing something for the cause like Groupon is and donating money to a charity to help Tibet against its government. Activists are like Politicians, they scream foul play at anything not part of their ideals, yet don’t do anything to fix it.

  21. kevinw Feb. 11 at 11:45 a.m.

    More shocking is the sight of Timothy Hutton on any screen lately

  22. Amep Feb. 11 at 11:58 a.m.

    Even though the Groupon’s ad was distasteful but it surely helped raise awareness to the Tibet’s cause. I think at the end of the day its a positive result for Tibet.Thanks everyone for the raising their voice against the groupon’s ad for Tibet.

  23. Rance Spergl Feb. 11 at 12:28 pm

    This is what thirty-somethings with too much success and ad money think is a “radically clever multiculti advertising idea”.

    Capitalism/humanitarian blend is the shill of the younger generation. The boomers failed with their Woodstock fantasies, the Gen Xers were all about greed and careerism and now…

  24. Xtina Feb. 11 at 1:47 pm

    Criminy – that was offensive? It made me think of people immigrating out of Tibet and making a living and maybe working on the outside to help people still on the inside. It was a very nice ad, and I adore T. Hutton, who has turned into a handsome, mature fox.

  25. NDJB Feb. 11 at 1:50 pm

    “Groupon -selling stupid needless products at a discount to people who dont have the money to pay for them. I smell a dot com bust very soon”

    marymary…….you have absolutely no idea how Groupon works do you? I smell someone who still uses a phone book.

  26. kacey Feb. 11 at 2:42 pm

    I think it would have been fine if they just had the donation call to action at the end of the ads. As it was, the ads just weren’t very funny and without the donation info, just confusing. It’s mainly their response that bugs – “Sorry, you just don’t get the joke.” is not the right way to respond. It’s patronizing.

  27. marymary Feb. 11 at 2:43 pm

    NDJB- Au contrare, I have bought thru groupon only to not use the products and kick myself for spending money foolishly. Then it hit me, the stuff they sell is useless, you dont need it, even with the so called savings. But hey you just keep using them and charging up your credit cards. Very astute of you.

  28. Nora Feb. 11 at 3:17 pm

    Groupon is certainly a trend that is here to stay, regardless of their recent tasteless advertisements. Hopefully their apologies and their pulling of the commercials will show consumers that they are listening. is another aggregator site that offers consumers a way to save with daily deals and sales in their area being e-mailed to them daily.
    Using daily deals and groupons can still be a great way to save on your next big purchase, or even for everyday savings.

  29. Firelog Feb. 11 at 3:18 pm

    The ads are tasteless. They insult the consumer, but they are good art.

    The commercials speak the truth.

    We are a consumer society, the BEST of us perhaps tithe our incomes for charity.

    Most of us couldn’t care less about Tibet, the Rain Forest, or whales.

    The commercial took us to our heart of darkness, “The horror! The horror!”

    I was insulted. After all, I gave money to Greenpeace ONCE, ten years ago. Still have yet to donate to Tibet.

    Well, got to go hop in my carbon spewing car to go buy some furniture and some shoes.

  30. Saa Feb. 11 at 5:27 pm

    Good riddance. Hope they learned from this fiasco. Can’t make fun of social causes even if it’s self-deprecating in some convoluted way. Now make an ad making fun of Groupon itself and how it wasted money and ad time on an ad that won’t ever be shown again.

  31. mouseanon Feb. 11 at 9:06 pm

    Groupon, poopon. The company is little more than a fluffed-up coupon clipper which relies on uninformed customers paying no attention to what they are actually buying, and just got caught offering ‘discount’ flowers for more than what the retailer normally sells them for. This is a very badly run company which has based its marketing on the same scheme as the cable and telephone companies: Overcharge for service and then quietly refund the difference to the small percentage who actually complain about it. Brilliant!

  32. Stephen Problem Feb. 12 at 3:24 a.m.

    idiots have been moaning about political correctness as some kind of cultural fascism for years, but see no contradiction between this and the “logic” of the free market economy. All contentions aside: THIS WAS A STUPID AD THAT MADE YOUR PUBLICLY TRADED COMPANY LOOK STUPID.

    “He confused edgy with just plain in-your-face dumb.” –Triceratop\

    That’s more like it.

  33. Are You Kidding? Feb. 12 at 5:34 pm

    Offensive? Really? Who would see those as not being border-line genius ads? I thought they were good. You have to take it for what it was – an advertisement for God’s sake. Geez, grow a pair…….

  34. LEAH F Feb. 13 at 1:43 pm

    Seriously?! With all of the degrading and demeaning portrayals of women occurring on a regular basis in television advertising and on television shows people are going to freak out over this??!!
    People need to start paying attention to what is happening in our own country in our own society and stop worrying so much about what is happening in other cultures which, by the way, detest America and Americans, in part because of our incessant poking around in everyone else’s business while ignoring that fact that we have our own major problems here!