Groupon’s Tibet ad – funny, accurate, and a stupid mistake

Groupon’s Tibet ad was a stupid mistake, but not for the reasons you might think.

Let’s start with the obvious.  Nobody really cares about Tibet (who can name two cities in it?), but Tibet is one of the stuff white people like, so everyone has to pretend to care about it.  Groupon is more stuff white people like – its quirky humor and global-local emphasis converted your grandmother’s coupon-clipping into a multi-billion dollar business.  Now, Groupon’s ad no more mocks the people of Lhasa and Shigatse than “Best In Show” makes fun of little doggies – the real target is clueless hipsters.  Unfortunately, this is a key part of Groupon’s user base, and they don’t like to be made fun of, so they took offence … on behalf of the Tibetan people, of course.

So, a stupid mistake.  Or was it?  Groupon is trying to move into the mass market – why not do that by creating a controversy?  Attack your base, garner attention from the mainstream media, and ride your Sister Souljah moment all the way to Facebook-style valuations.  Of course, not all Super Bowl ad campaigns lead to commercial success – if you think they do, there’s a Groupon for 50%-off sock puppets you might want to buy.

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