Groupon Out Daddy’d GoDaddy

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Once again, showed up to Super Bowl 45 with its spectacularly brainless T&A spots meant to polarize and scandalize the millions of viewers gathered to watch this world championship of brand advertising. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Danica Patrick’s hair flipping and bad acting that had people seething. It was Groupon’s parody ads about saving the whales (or not), preserving Tibetan culture (or not) and rainforest deforestation.

I’ll let other folks debate whether these ads were in good taste. Here, I’ll simply offer 3 tips that might help Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason when he debuts next year’s Super Bowl spots.

1)      Warm up the 12th Man. Groupon has zillions of customers who are out there singing the praises of Groupon every day. These brand evangelists are basically an extension of the Groupon staff. And yet when the ads aired and Twitter went up in flames with angry Groupon Tweets, there were almost no messages of support from your fans. Why? Because barely anyone knew the punchline. Come Sunday night, no one was telling Groupon’s story. Instead, the critics told *their* version of Groupon’s story all night long. Next time, let some of your biggest brand advocates in on the joke, too. Groupon users are a social media savvy bunch. They are active on Groupon’s discussion boards, they Tweet, they share information on Facebook. Share with them the story of what you’re trying to accomplish with your ad campaign and they’ll have your back when the Twitter mob comes calling.

2)      Don’t Forget Your Special Teams. It’s hard to get angry at people who save the whales, protect the rainforest and rush to the aid of an oppressed people. These are noble causes that most of us can get behind. If you’ve got friends like Greenpeace, The Tibet Fund or The Rainforest Action Network, tell us! But perhaps more importantly, have them vouch for you. By Monday, Greenpeace posted a blog entry explaining the Groupon/Greenpeace collaboration. Then came the response from buildOn, and by Tuesday Rainforest Action Network had also shared some very candid (and somewhat critical) feedback. Wait...I feel like there was one more...who are we But for most, this seems too little, too late. Next time, work with your allies ahead of the big event and help them find ways to put the work your doing into context for your audience and theirs. Seed them with ideas for their organization’s blog and invite them to guest post on your own. Invite them to post a message on Facebook or brainstorm Twitter messages to post over a longer period of time. If the partnership is significant enough, determine whether there are opportunities for them to participate in media interviews.

3)      Read the Blitz – Be Ready to Call an Audible. How did a company that is fueled by social media buzz get caught so unprepared? As the storm on Twitter raged on, everyone from CEO @AndrewMason to the @Groupon local reps went silent for hours and hours. During the game, anyone who visited Groupon’s Facebook pages got…crickets. A glance at the Groupon discussion boards showed plenty of comments from angry viewers, but nothing from the company. These are powerful tools to tell people not just about your daily deals, but also about your story – how you began as a cause-based website called The Point, the collaboration between your organization and the charities, why these charities matter to your customer. Next time, help your staff use all of these tools to contribute to the conversation happening around Groupon’s brand. I have to wonder whether there would still be seven pages of angry comments on the discussion board if someone had honestly answered that first question of, “What were you thinking?!”

And on a related note, if the overwhelming feedback from customers is telling you that your message was ill-received, you may want to take a closer look at what you said, and engage in sincere dialog with your critics on why they are offended and what you can do to change that.

We don’t expect this to be the end of Groupon. In fact, it's TBD whether this post-game buzz will turn out in their favor. We’re just hoping the next time they take the field, they’ll be more prepared.