The dust has begun to settle. Groupon announced today that they were pulling the widely discussed “Tibet” ad and will instead air a less-polarizing replacement. It’s a shame, really. This ad debuting during the Super Bowl seems to have been discussed more than the Super Bowl champions, themselves. Around the water-coolers here at Ameritest, we’re a little disappointed. It didn’t need to come to this. We’re sure a lot of time, money and creative energy went into this ad that was so quickly tossed to the side.
What went wrong?

If you enter “Groupon” and “Tibet” into your preferred search engine, a whole slew of opinions will pop up of what went wrong. Some calling the ad offensive, in poor taste, politically incorrect, etc. Looking at the ad as it is, some of these may hold some weight, but we have a different view. We don’t believe Groupon meant to be offensive and we know for certain that ads meant to shock are not a recipe for failure. We think perhaps the ad left a little too much to the viewers’ own devices.

The ad beautifully sets up the images of Tibet while Timothy Hutton narrates the struggles of the culture. From here it takes a “dramatic” turn to a bustling Chicago restaurant wherein Timothy humorously describes how he still enjoys their fish curry…especially when he’s getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for only $15 on Groupon.com. Say what? Did Groupon really just use a culture in ruins as a way to sell more gift certificates? It seems so. See, the thing with ads meant to “shock” is that you can’t assume the viewer is going to do their homework. You cannot simply present two extreme opposites and expect a viewer to tie it all together. Any positive feeling felt toward the imagery of Tibet, would immediately turn negative once a viewer thought you were poking fun. And guess where those negative feelings are going to be channeled when all is said and done…your brand.

Now, what if Groupon had tied those two loose ends together for the viewer…maybe with a mention that Groupon is a supporter of the Tibet Fund cause? They did! However, it was not in the ad featured during the Super Bowl, the one everyone is talking about…the one that is now off air but has set the context for any future viewings of the re-cut. Leaving the viewer to his own interpretations caused a severe backlash. Most seemed to not want to hear about the Tibet Fund after the fact. It was too late, too reactive. Small tweaks before the ad’s debut would have balanced any negative feelings toward the ad without causing it to lose its buzz factor.

To those familiar with copy testing or advertising agencies, I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor about how copy testing kills creativity. When it comes to the more traditional copy-testers, we couldn’t agree more. However, could Groupon have aired buzz-worthy advertising during this momentous occasion in American culture, without turning off the masses? Definitely. The moment-by-moment analysis our Picture Sorts provide would’ve shown how.

Ameritest loves ads that aren’t afraid the push a few buttons…especially when we’ve helped find which buttons are worth pushing and which are best left alone.