A day after running a thirty-second Super Bowl commercial starring Timothy Hutton, Groupon finds itself under fire from unhappy viewers who felt the spot trivialized a serious issue. The ad, directed by Best in Show's Christopher Guest, begins by showing scenic Tibetan landscapes as Hutton's voiceover declares, "The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy." The camera then cuts to Hutton sitting at a table in Chicago's Himalayan Restaurant as he says in an abrupt tonal shift, "But they still whip up an AMAZING fish curry," as he goes on to explain how he got a fifty-percent discount through Groupon.
Chinese internet users were angered and confused by the ad, as the Twitterverse went into action. "Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying three [million] dollars to lose customers who previously loved them," tweeted influential blogger and professor, Rohit Bhargava. "Groupon is doomed to failure now in China. Groupon's lax approach to the Chinese market is not going to work!" posted a user on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site that resembles Twitter.
But not everyone was offended; some people supported Groupon, pointing out that the online coupon vendor did bring attention to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. And in truth, it wouldn't make sense for Groupon to mock the plight of Tibetans, as the Chinese market is a crucial one for the company. It appears to be a case of Guest's subtle humor backfiring. Groupon CEO Andrew Mason called the ad a "spoof" on typical celebrity PSAs, and stated the ad was intended to raise funds for the oppressed Tibetan people.