On Whips, Spurs and Groupon's Super Bowl Ad

Back in my horse days, when we first opened our new stable's doors to the public, we had the idea to host a riding clinic: a one-day event where a notable "celebrity" riding instructor could be flown in to give lessons.  The idea was that riders from other stables in the area could come check out the new stable in town as well as get some professional advice from someone whose experience they might not otherwise get to tap.

The professional we chose was a grizzled, well-respected trainer from Virginia named Pam who was short, loud and weathered.  In other words, she was downright terrifying.  At one point during the day, one of the nine year-old girls was cantering around a course of jumps and her horse was going painfully slowly.  "Do you have a crop?" Pam shouted at the girl, referring to the small whip that riders sometimes carry along with spurs to coax their horses to move forward.

"Yes!" The little girl shouted as her horse poked along at a comfortable lope.

"Well, why don't you use it!" Pam retorted.  The girl's face turned sadly toward Pam as her horse broke into a trot.

"I left it back at the barn!"

"Well," Pam shouted back, turning her eye to the next rider, "I'm sure it's making the barn go faster!"

***

I don't own a TV but I do have an interest in brand sentiment, so during last night's Super Bowl I tried to see which ads generated most talk on Twitter -- both positive and negative -- and watched those ones first on YouTube.  Groupon was one of the first ones I watched and, at first blush, I had to agree with the negative reaction:  out of touch with today's bleeding hearts and poorly timed given recent world events in Egypt making people highly in tune to government turmoil.  Missed it?  Watch it below:



It didn't dawn on me until this morning that before he was Groupon, CEO Andrew Mason was the initial founder of The Point, a group-action platform that Groupon was initially based on.

The Point first came onto my radar in 2008 at Netroots Nation in Austin when I stopped by their booth.  They were giving out super-soft American Apparel t-shirts (that I still wear).  Their whole vibe was earthy, well-intentioned and philanthropical:  get together a bunch of people who believe in a cause, have them pledge money toward it and when the group tips over "the point," the money gets charged to everyones' credit cards.  

So even though Mason has got to be rolling in it, I've always had a pretty good attitude toward Groupon.  How was it, then, that I tossed all of that out the end zone last night and stewed about how insensitive their company must be to run that Tibet ad?  Mason issued a statement this afternoon explaining that Groupon ran the ads in order to benefit their "highlighted causes" on their other site, SaveTheMoney.org, hoping people will donate the money they save using Groupon.  Groupon (or is it Save The Money?  Unclear.) is also matching donations.

The ad does end with "Save The Money" dropping down on the screen, but there's no dot-com after the phrase or indication of the fact that Timothy Hutton just downed some fish curry and donated to a good cause.

***

So...what's the correlation between whips and Groupon?  The point is that it's fantastic that Groupon built these ads around philanthropic causes -- they just forgot their message back at the barn.  Save The Money certainly didn't translate into those ads and if their mea culpa was planned for the day after, then they're going way too slowly to save face in the way we live, spend and give now: real-time.

Giddy-up.

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