Groupon's Super Bowl commercial under fire

February 7, 2011 8:37:03 PM PST
A Super Bowl commercial from Chicago-based coupon discounter Groupon is getting a lot of criticism. Many believe one of the company's $3 million ads mocked the struggle of Tibetans.

Groupon bought three advertising slots during Sunday night's Super Bowl. The ads were said to bring attention to social causes. But the ad's sarcastic tone and quick twist from cause to capitalism has hit a sour note.

Momo is a Tibetan specialty that is hard to find in Chicago. But you can find Tibetan and Nepalese fare at Himalayan Restaurant in Niles. The restaurant's owners hoped to introduce their menu to new customers and did a Groupon in the fall. It worked.

"We see a lot of new faces," said Himalayan co-owner Vivek Kunwar. "It was definitely a good promotion for us."

When Groupon approached Himalayan about being in a commercial about the Tibetans' plight for independence, the owners, who are Nepalese, were glad to participate and help educate Americans.

But the ad they saw during the Super Bowl they say didn't work.

"Their very culture is in jeopardy," goes the ad, "but they still whip up an amazing fish curry."

The president of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago tells ABC7:

"I feel Groupon's use of our plight to further their business is bit insensitive, and fish curry is not a Tibetan dish...I hope they will do something worthwhile to alleviate the sufferings of Tibetan people."

The owners of Himalayan say some of their Tibetan customers are upset with commercials. And they understand.

"I think if it were done a little differently it would have been much better, definitely had a bigger impact," said Kunwar.

Sunday, Groupon's CEO blogged they wanted to do a parody of public service announcements -- starting with some cause, but reveal the actual cause is helping yourself save money. They are now tweaking the ads.

Groupon's origins are in philanthropic fundraising online. CEO Andrew Mason said they were also poking fun at themselves, and they offer to match contributions to the causes highlighted, but it seems their charitable campaign got lost in the joke.

Groupon is based in Chicago. ABC7 put in a request for an interview but was told they are not doing any on-camera interviews.