February 8 2011
by Scott Johnson

Groupon Super Bowl Ads – Brilliant?

There is a ton of buzz around the Groupon Super Bowl advertisements, and it is all “negative publicity.”  Let’s stipulate for now that the ads were insensitive.  Even further, let’s stipulate that they lost some subscribers as a result.  Short term, this is not good.  Long term?  I think all this attention is a big win for the company.

Prior to these ads, who had heard of Groupon?  We, the investing startup world, all had for sure.  But my kids hadn’t.  My Mom hadn’t.  Even my wife hadn’t.  Do they know the brand Groupon now?  Many of them do.  They might have gone from 25% awareness to 40% awareness in one weekend.  Is this the classic case of “no publicity is bad publicity?”  Sure is!  I say on balance Groupon will look back on this campaign as a blow-out success.  It reminds me of Paris Hilton after the sex tapes.  She tried to suppress their release, but the ensuing publicity made her career.

I don’t believe that no publicity is bad publicity.  There are career-ending and company-ending acts that, when exposed, send you off to obscurity and revile in a blaze of publicity.  But Groupon didn’t cross that line here, and theirs are the most talked about Super-Bowl ads without question.  Were the ads brilliant.  Certainly not.  Accolades are reserved for publicity due to merit, not accident.  That said, in addition to creating some undeniable ill will, this was an enviable branding coup.

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