32 responses

  1. Kelly Rusk
    February 9, 2011

    Great analysis Mack and I think you’re absolutely right.

    What I found interesting is that I didn’t see the Groupon ads on the Superbowl, but I did click through the next day and watch them through the landing page with the charitable campaign, so from that perspective I got right away what they were doing.

    I did notice (later) that there was absolutely no call to action (or mention whatsoever) of the charitable campaign IN the actual ad. I think that was the big fail right there. And what he probably should have apologized.. that in the grand scheme of things they overlooked a (very important!) detail that really made the difference between being a social campaign and mocking social causes.

    I was surprised his non-apology didn’t really explain that either. And you’re right about the tone, though I didn’t pick up on it right away (again, not angry about the ads to begin with, so I was more of a neutral observer)

    • Mack Collier
      February 9, 2011

      Kelly I saw Jay Baer tweeting the point that the SB ads as a whole had almost no calls to action. I am very sensitive to how companies respond online to customer complaints, and his tone screamed ‘Oh give me a break guys, you’re overreacting!’ Even if you THINK that, you don’t SAY that!

  2. Becky McCray
    February 9, 2011

    This is golden advice: “How you handle the first conversation (after a problem), leads to the second one.”

    Would you agree that the bigger the company, the more they are tempted to dismiss or downplay the viewpoints of others?

    • Mack Collier
      February 9, 2011

      Becky I think a lot of companies seem to have the mentality that if they ignore negative comments, that they ‘go away’. Then when they don’t ignore them, they end up calling SEO firms and have the ‘how can we get this off the first page of Google?’ conversation ;)

      In general, the companies that don’t understand the power of social media and blogs are the ones that tend to downplay comments from customers. And yes, I agree with you that bigger companies seem to do this more, as if a few customers leaving negative comments can’t move the needle.

      The problem is when those small groups of customers leaving negative comments all start sharing links and become CONNECTED. Then you’ve got issues.

  3. Mary H Ruth
    February 9, 2011

    Is it the marketer’s job to court or challenge? Is the world divided in two: those who must be nurtured and those who must be butt-kicked before they’ll take action?

    So many great quotes in this post and I especially appreciate Kelly Rusk’s comment – excellent articulations from all sides!

    Must admit, though, that Groupon’s ‘voice’ is always a bit abrasive. Do you read their sales copy on daily email offers? It’s definitely unique but also sort of offensive IMO. I chalked it up to style and quit reading the messages, but it appears the company may have to … is it mature, or buckle? … I’m not sure which.

    • Mack Collier
      February 9, 2011

      Mary that’s a good point about Groupon’s voice being a bit abrasive as a rule. But again, this is the 1st time a lot of us are being exposed to Groupon, so we wouldn’t know that. I also think it’s a good chance for Groupon to be human, Andrew could have added something like ‘Hey we like to have fun and a sense of humor here, but what we’re hearing from you is that maybe we went too far this time. Moving forward, we’ll think more about how we can maintain our sense of fun, but also be as respectful of the views of others, as possible.’

      Again, acknowledging why customers are complaining is a BIG thing. Even if you think they are dead wrong, you need to let them know that their voice has been heard.

  4. Allison Carter
    February 9, 2011

    Mack, as I mentioned to you on Twitter, I had been planning on writing my own take on what Groupon should do to repair the damage, but you hit them all.

    I think one of Groupon’s biggest mistakes was to believe their own hype. They’re the big kid on the playground right now–we turned down $6 billion from Google! We have a host of imitators! We’re awesome and everyone knows us! While that might be true in the online world, bursting into the mainstream world of the Super Bowl is a whole different matter. They assumed that people would know who they were and that they started off as a philanthropic organization, that people would understand that their tone is always flippant and sarcastic.

    They assumed a much higher level of brand awareness than actually exists, and are paying the price. That’s not to say that the commercials aren’t in poor taste, but they may have made more sense if Groupon had had a more established brand identity.

  5. Jennifer
    February 9, 2011

    Mack- You are so right. The way I describe it is as follows. When a stranger says something sarcastic, it’s sometimes hard to tell and it can be off-putting. Same thing with a brand that is not well known. While I have been a GroupOn member for some time, I don’t have a strong association with the brand. So when they act snarky, it puts me off.

    It was an error in judgement and simply pointing that out, apologizing and pulling the ad was in order.

    Instead, they lost me and many others as customers.

    • Mack Collier
      February 9, 2011

      Jennifer that’s a great point, it’s MUCH harder to read sarcasm coming from someone we don’t know. Excellent observation.

  6. Joel Capperella
    February 9, 2011

    I don’t know that I agree with the necessity of an “I’m sorry” I see that you qualify that with “if you are at fault”, but I don’t think it necessary to take a remorseful position in order to appease. That said the rest of the post is spot on and I’m amazed that Groupon hasn’t engaged those leaving comments at all. you would think that Crispin Porter + Bogusky would have prepared Groupon for handling the inevitable backlash. They achieved the intent of the add, to increase the buzz well beyond the broadcast, but their client seems ill prepared to manage the response.

    • Mack Collier
      February 9, 2011

      Joel I think CP&B was just interested in getting buzz with these ads, as was Groupon. They probably guessed there would be some people irritated, but that that would also feed more buzz.

      Not sure dealing with the negativity was a high priority for them.

  7. Robert Pickstone
    February 9, 2011

    Hi Mark,

    Here’s my take.

    First step: The 3 A’s – Acknowledge, Apologise, Act.

    “We appreciate all the feedback we are receiving and are sorry that our advert has caused offence. We will try to ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future”.

    Ok, it can be stretched out a little but the above points need to be made clear. (maybe Groupon didn’t want to make these points)

    Second Step: Engage

    Speak to those who are showing an interest in your company – show the world how well you handle complaints – display your customer service, credibility and human side.

    Third step (well, actually it’s before the first): Run your company better and address core issues – it will help to avoid this type of firefighting.



  8. Jason Yormark
    February 9, 2011

    I don’t know, I didn’t find the ads entertaining, witty, or funny. Blah. They would have been much better off at least hinting to their charitable actions, but hey, if buzz was the goal, mission accomplished.

    Their response definitely reeks of arrogance, and in the growing group buying rush, you’d think they’d be more “community” in their approach rather then just telling everybody to get over it. I wasn’t offended by the ads, but their inability to respond effectively and interact is the bigger fail.

  9. Keith
    February 10, 2011

    Personally, I think people are too wrapped up in what offends people. Really? Was that commercial offensive? I didn’t find anything offensive about it at all, and see no need for any apology from Groupon.

    “Get over it” is the attitude I would have too….

  10. Joe Chernov
    February 10, 2011

    First sign of a flawed position: Taking a “but they are even worse” stance (see the red herring “objectification” argument). Two wrongs don’t make a right. They make you a terrible debater.

  11. Deborah Sexton
    February 10, 2011

    Thanks to Mack and everyone else who posted here. I haven’t pissed off anyone yet but now if I do, I’m ready to deal with it correctly!

    • Mack Collier
      February 10, 2011

      Thanks Deborah, you just made my day ;)

  12. Andrea Wenger
    February 10, 2011

    The ads make it clear that Groupon is branding themselves as sarcastic, arrogant, self-absorbed, and absolutely unconcerned with political correctness. Their response to criticism is consistent with that brand. They’ve decided that they’re not interested in engaging with a certain segment of the population nor courting them as potential customers. Groupon is narrowing their customer base, but that’s a business decision that they seem to have made consciously. I think the real harm is that many people they’ve offended will boycott them zealously and evangelically. Will the buzz be worth it? Possibly, but it’s a gamble.

    • Mack Collier
      February 10, 2011

      Andrea those are great points and while we can scrutinize their actions and response now, the bigger question is what will the long-term impact be? My bet is that this will only bring more awareness to them, which is no doubt what they wanted by buying SB ads, and putting an agency known for creating edgy work such as CP&B in charge of creating them.

      It’s a fine line to walk. Main people have pointed out that the ads are consistent with Groupon’s branding and messaging. That’s fine, but also at play is the fact that Sunday was the FIRST time a lot of people had ever heard of Groupon. So they weren’t aware of how they had previously branded themselves. As Jennifer said above, it’s tough to read sarcasm from a stranger.

      Still, being edgy doesn’t mean that you still can’t be respectful and empathic toward your customers’ concerns. That’s just good business.

  13. Larry Irons
    February 10, 2011

    Empathy goes a long way in social communication, especially when dealing with upset strangers.

  14. Erik
    February 10, 2011

    While I do like your comments on Groupon’s response, I’m going to take it a different direction here…

    Remember when GoDaddy started their Super Bowl ads? They actually got press before-hand because they had to cut the end, because it was too racy for television. It was more specifically sexist, it exploited women. They took a little heat, but instead of apologizing, they continued to make more ads the same way.

    And now, everyone knows GoDaddy. (To be honest, I think it is a horrible web hosting company.) But take any average American, and it’s probably the only web host they could name off the top of their head – and they don’t give a hoot who was exploited to make their ads popular and memorable. They just want a website.

    People want a discount, they don’t really care if a commercial makes fun of Tibet. They just like to talk about it. In the social media era, people love to be sensitive, and they love to ride high horses.

    My point is that maybe their response is exactly the kind of attitude they want to have. They aren’t going to be proper with their disaster recovery PR because that isn’t the way they operate. Rock star’s get to be asshole’s as long as they make great music. And everyone loves a great discount!

    We talk about authenticity and transparency in social media all the time. His thought was “jeeze, can’t you people take a joke” and that’s the response he gave. Take it or leave it. Guess how many people get fired up next time they run a controversial ad? I bet a lot less.

  15. Kelly
    February 10, 2011

    Hi, Mack,

    As always, I appreciate how you add to the learning without “piling on.”

    In that same spirit I’ll say that the excerpt from the CEO’s post seemed a bit defensive to me in tone. And defensiveness is the first act of war. A little humility would go a long way here. It’s strange how we often feel that humility diminishes us in the eyes of our community, when in fact it endears us.


  16. Ari Herzog
    February 10, 2011

    Thanks for referencing me and something I wrote (though I have no recollection writing it, but that’s no surprise since I sometimes come across blog articles and attempt to write a comment when I notice I already commented there with the same thought so many months earlier).

    The company’s Superbowl ads didn’t upset me as much as others, but that may partially because I’ve never participated in any GroupOn initiatives. Maybe if I was more involved with them I’d be more upset?

    What I’d like to mention here is within hours after tweeting a link to Andrew Mason’s GroupOn blog apology with specific reference to the 100% match the company would donate when people donated, I received a response from @GroupOnBoston ( http://twitter.com/#!/grouponboston/status/34808112921710592 ) with the simple sentence, “That was always part of the plan.”

    I thank them for tweeting me, which makes me wonder why they hadn’t replied to any of the blog comments.

  17. Jeannie Chan
    February 11, 2011

    Groupon did finally apologize. I think this would have been a far better response… but I think Groupon fell in love with their ads, and couldn’t see (hear) clearly how the situation was unfolding. (My post on more here http://bit.ly/fpmujY)

  18. Tristan
    March 19, 2011

    they do have some commercial backlash, here is a funny joke I saw about the Dalai Lama and Groupon, http://ponderingstuff.com/2011/03/19/dalai-lama-retires-groupon/

  19. Melissa Agnes
    February 8, 2012

    Great post! You’re right on. They should have taken a cue from Chapstick and learned through their mistakes that offence can lead to disaster when not handled properly.

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