Does Groupon Think Their Customers Are Mindless?

Groupon is really getting cocky. Having recently turned down a multi-billion dollar buyout offer from Google, the company released two odd & controversial superbowl advertisements that seem to have left more people scratching their heads with a bad taste in their mouth than chuckling with the amusement the company may have expected. To sum it up, both ads began as if they were public service messages for hot button issues – one, a “save the whales” message from Cuba Gooding Jr, the other a “save Tibet” message from Timothy Hutton.

Here’s Tibet:

And here’s the Whale ad:

It’s not that I’m all bent out of shape on some kind of politically correct mission. I, and apparently many others were turned off by the suggestion that we as customers are so mindless we’d rather save a few bucks than live our lives at a slightly deeper level.

On the contrary, many of us are pushing a point as a consumer society where people are starting to think about “voting with our dollars” – rewarding companies who do the right thing, who make real investments in community, environment and culture. Just look at GroupOn competitor Act Bolder – here’s a little startup that’s offering Groupon style discounts for customers who take some kind of positive action and share it on Facebook. Or Carrot Mob, who rewards businesses directly with lots of attention if they pledge to take some kind of action on an environmental or social issue.

Neither of these are billion dollar companies by a long shot, but they and many like them are quickly filling the voids that Groupon has left open by forgetting the inspiration that can come with positive consumer action. Saving money is great, but saving money and influencing something positive in your community, or in the way a company works, is much more powerful – and will result in far greater customer loyalty in the long run.

In the meantime, Groupon has hardly appologized for the stunt, saying “We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes.” But…. you did trivialize those causes…. big time.

Watch out, or Groupon may be the Pets.com of Web 2.0.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.