Anyone who was paying attention during last night’s Super Bowl was surprised for fifteen seconds that a pro-Dalai Lama advocacy group had managed to buy ad time for a spot on the troubles Tibet faces–then somewhere between miffed or horrified as the second half of the ad pulled the rug out. Groupon can get you a deal on Himalayan food! Forget freeing Tibet–”Save the Money.” Oof.
And yet the ad has a great pedigree–it was directed by Best in Show auteur Christopher Guest. Guest’s tone, in his films, is notably off-putting and weird, often alienating. That works for a film marketed as a comedy, but may have been a less apt choice for a brand introducing itself to the nation at large. It’s easy to see why they chose Guest (who’s not currently working on any films) to direct. He’s a god among the young and tuned-in. But his work (as well as the bizarre choice to register a domain name, savethemoney.org, that redirects to a dot-com site showcasing the whole series of faux-charity ads) may just be too self-consciously offbeat for the broad-strokes Super Bowl.
Or maybe the Groupon gang just doesn’t know what they’re doing! Their apology, as posted on the Los Angeles Times‘s website, begins with an explanation of the ads that points out how they work as comedy but fails to acknowledge why they might not work for a viewer:
“The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as ‘Save the Whales’), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in ‘Save the Money’)?”
They go on to note that the whole thing was planned as an elaborate way to get attention for, and give matching funds to, charities, once they got online to the Groupon site. If you have to explain the joke, Groupon, you may have spent too much on Christopher Guest.
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