Rule 47: Avoid Having to Explain Your Super Bowl Ad

On Tuesday, Groupon founder Andrew Mason took to his company's blog and explained their series of Super Bowl ads. That's never a good thing…

You can brag.
You can apologize.
But you should never have to explain.

In 3 spots that ran before, during and after the game, ads that appeared to promote humanitarian and environmental causes – most notably Chinese government oppression in Tibet – swerved to become tongue-in-cheek pitches for Groupon sales. Immediately following the spots, many took to Facebook and Twitter to complain, focusing on the fact that their ads made light of serious situations.

After taking 24 hours of flak, Mason had to explain how the ads worked and why they produced the ads they produced to an angry crowd. He did not apologize.

This isn't a blog about whether the ad was inappropriate or not. This is a blog about how the ad wasn't clear and if you are going to be running an ad during the Super Bowl, it should probably be clear to the viewer.

When I first saw the ad I thought to myself “wow, that's a kick in the nuts.” Then was left to wonder what next? I took to Twitter and saw a stream of tweets such as “since when has Kenneth Cole been handling the advertising for Groupon?” The public was confused.

But eventually my account executive instincts kicked in and I visited the Groupon website. Everything seemed normal. I was given the opportunity to choose my city and register for an account. But that seemed to be it. Just as I was about to leave the site I saw a small button that said “View our Super Bowl commercials and make a donation”. It was only when I clicked on it that I was diverted to

e The Money” href=”http://www.savethemoney.org” target=”_blank”>www.savethemoney.org

At www.savethemoney.org I was given the opportunity to view the ads and donate to Greenpeace, The Tibet Fund, The Rainforest Action Network and BuildOn. If I donated $15 Groupon would reward me with that same amount in Groupon credit. This was great. But it wasn't clear (and it seems I wasn't the only one who felt this way). PS: the www.savethemoney.org URL was not present on the TV spots.

In his blog, Mason said that, rather than making fun of charitable causes, the ads were intended to make light of Groupon itself, and advertising in general. Then he got defensive. “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,” Mason said. “Unlike those ads, no one walks away from our commercials taking the causes we highlighted less seriously.”

If you are going to spend $3 million on the ad (which is the rumored amount) then you want to make damn sure that people understand it. Being controversial is fine, being unclear isn't.

PS: on Sunday Groupon became the 3rd most downloaded app in the Apple iTunes store, which completely blows everything I just said out of the water. Any publicity is good publicity.

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