Satire versus Philanthropy 2011: Groupon Edition In case you missed the Super Bowl and subsequent noise made thereafter about it (I wouldn’t necessarily blame you), the social-buying-community-turned-media-giant Groupon aired a Super Bowl commercial that,...

In case you missed the Super Bowl and subsequent noise made thereafter about it (I wouldn’t necessarily blame you), the social-buying-community-turned-media-giant Groupon aired a Super Bowl commercial that, accordingly to Groupon’s official blog, aimed to “draw attention to cultural tensions created by brands.”


The ad outlines just a few of the very serious issues happening in Tibet. You see young kids looking disenfranchised off into the distance and you start to think, Hey! That’s that country that other countries won’t recognize as a sovereign nation! The results of this situation in a widely rural and developing nation are probably pretty devastating.

And then a white man, sitting in a nice looking restaurant in Chicago, reminds you that you don’t really give a fuck because you’re sitting on the couch, watching the Super Bowl consuming an infinite of luxury goods—beer, commercials, professional sports, some kind of food, gas or electric heating, electricity, or clothing that could have been made in Tibet. The list is kind of dizzying.

Here’s where everyone gets offended because Groupon just told you the truth and it hurts like a bitch.

“The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers — it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.” Said Andrew Mason, Groupon chief executive.

What he fails to relay is that the advertising company he paid to make this ad meant to do just that. The advertising firm, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, has a pretty notorious record for creating ads that are pointedly self-deprecating to whatever brand it’s representing.

Cited in Groupon’s response, is an ad for Hulu by CP&B that pokes fun of television and its effects on your brain. More than just poking fun at television’s seemingly endless marketing and obsessive strive to have you consuming day and night, Alec Baldwin and CP&B make fun of you.

You don’t have the chops to even turn off your TV and computer at the same time.

Do you truly deserve not to be offended? It’s a question I feel was failed to be asked by mainstream media. Because satire is so often reserved for leadership, it’s hard to face when it’s coming your way. If you were offended, I ask if you really had the right to be? I didn’t.

It’s hard to realize that you deserve to be made fun of by a company that can afford to do so in prime time.

I’m also not sure how much room I really have to be offended. I believe in the beauty and emotion of art that many people find offensive and sometimes even pornographic. And even more so, I believe in the truth of satire even if I’m the target.

I have to admit, though, I was shocked and a little offended when I first saw the ad. I even took the time to hastily write out a quick lecture to the folks at Groupon on my lunch break—if they moderate any more comments, you can find it! But the more I thought about it, and the less hastily I wrapped together my thoughts, the more my opinion changed.

But before I get carried away, let me also say that I have not over looked what I think might be one of the most pressing issues here…

Groupon’s chief executor goes on to explain that the ads almost can’t be offensive because Groupon is so heavily involved in philanthropy. Each one of the ads is backed by pretty reputable non-profits—even the Groupon history is rooted in philanthropy.

So why the fuck did it waste what had to have cost millions of dollars on satirical advertisements when the money could have been funneled directly into the organizations’ pockets?

Because Groupon is a commercial product. Because life still sucks and Groupon just exploited serious humanitarian issues for its own lucrative gain.

That’s why.

However clever the satire might be, however worthwhile having that truth exposed might be—the fact of the matter is that Groupon did nothing philanthropic at all. Mason cites “raising awareness” for these causes as the fundamental guiding motives for Groupon’s Super Bowl ad campaigns. And while Groupon may not generate as many hits in a day as the Super Bowl does in one night, Groupon is available year round.

Groupon’s website generates literally hundreds of thousands (and probably millions) of page visits a day.

So I think a fucking leaderboard would have sufficed.

Philanthropy is not an action. It is not an ad campaign. Philanthropy is an embodiment of values. Had Groupon really committed to its philanthropic values, it would’ve realized that all the notoriety and profitable gain it received by running these ads, was not compassionate in any way.

Compassionate would have been to nut up and do what entry-level fundraisers already know how to do: get people focused on the issue.

So I’ll also call bullshit. And frankly, I am offended. I’m offended by the amount of money that was washed away from actual human beings by a company that swears allegiance to them. I am offended by the horrible lost opportunity Groupon wasted on this ad campaign.

But maybe you know better. Because, clearly, I’m not going to decide. Leave your comments, concerns, tyrants and rants. We’ll keep track and let you know who’s winning in Satire versus Philanthropy 2011: Groupon Edition. We’ll tweet your comments—if they’re clever! So be sure to check out and hashtags #philthysatire and #philthyphilanthropy for your comments.

Chain of Command by Chris Woods

Chain of Command by Chris Woods

Want more on corporate greed? Need to learn more about swindling? Or maybe you just want to feel angry enough to justify the cracked windshield you gave the man sitting in his SUV after he caught you off at the City Hall traffic circle on your bike. We suggest the following documentary, The Corporation …

Smile. It’s not so bad.