Chinese and Tibetan activists expressed outrage Monday morning over a Groupon commercial aired during Sunday's broadcast of Super Bowl XLV. The ad, which Groupon paid a reported $3 million to air, seemingly mocked the plight of the Tibetan people, who have suffered under the heavy hand of neighboring communist China since 1951.
The ad opens with shots of Tibet's beautiful landscape as actor Timothy Hutton's voice chimes in: “The Tibetan people are in trouble,” and “Their very culture is in jeopardy.” this is where the ad gets offensive. The scene shifts to a restaurant setting, where Hutton comments: “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry!” The ad then goes on to explain that Groupon is so great because it saved members a whole $15 on dinner at a Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.
The use of Tibet's troubles to advertise its services outraged a number of people immediately after the ad aired, as hundreds of people took to Twitter to express their anger. And the outrage continued Monday morning, as the Chinese were upset with the allegation that the Tibetan people are in trouble, a fact they vehemently deny, and Tibetans are angered by the cheapening of their plight.
In response to the outrage, Groupon has issued the following apology for the controversial ad:
"The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?
Since we grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site (ThePoint.com) and ended up selling coupons, we loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause. So we bought the spots, hired mockumentary expert Christopher Guest to direct them, enlisted some celebrity faux-philanthropists, and plopped down three Groupon ads before, during, and after the biggest American football game in the world."
In addition to the apology, Groupon has also set up a website, SaveTheMoney.org, where people can donate funds to four featured charities including the Tibet Fund. Groupon says it will match donations to the charities up to $100,000.