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Groupon's Mock-Philanthropy Super Bowl Ads Don't Help

Groupon hired Christopher Guest to parody charity PSAs and push their daily deals email, but does the joke fall flat? Watch and decide.

The daily-deal coupon company, Groupon, introduced itself to the world at-large yesterday with a disappointing set of Super Bowl ads directed by mockumenatarian Christopher Guest. The ads use big name actors to make light of serious problems in a faux-philanthropic PSA style ads that tout saving money for yourself as a noble cause.

Here's a sample from Elizabeth Hurley's ad (pictured above, video at bottom): "Not all deforestation is bad. (Sound of hair being waxed off a body) and since 100 of us bought at we're all saving 50 percent on a Brazilian wax ...." Clever.

Poking fun at the stodgy, earnest and guilt-exploiting appeals of charity PSAs is fine, in fact, more of it might make charity appeals improve. But these ads don't actually pull off the joke. Timothy Hutton's Tibet ad was just poorly done, and many say it's in poor taste too.


The real reason this coming out party for Groupon is disappointing though, is it's yet another lost opportunity for something better from the fast-growing industry leader. The admirably profitable deal site has roots in philanthropy and noble-minded collective action technology that they continue to tout, but do not promote or support nearly as much as a company valued at $15 billion should.

Groupon points out they are actually doing good with their snide commercials in a blog post about them.

Since we grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site ( and ended up selling coupons, we loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause...

And if you’ve saved enough money for yourself and feel like saving something else, you can donate to mission-driven organizations that are doing great work for the causes featured in our PSA parodies. If you guys pony up, Groupon will contribute matching donations of up to $100,000 for three featured charities—Rainforest Action Network, buildOn, and the Tibet Fund—and Groupon credit of up to $100,000 for contributions made to Greenpeace.


Groupon could do much more to support the site that spawned it, by replicating some of the practices of the tiny upstart Philanthroper that offers a good cause to support each day, and tries to cultivate giving as a habit among the growing internet consumer.

Here's another Groupon video. You decide if they're a good deal for philanthropy:


Update: Groupon has responded to the cascade of criticism against these ads with the sense of humor defense and a fair point about trivial commercialism.

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