Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Hold the Groupon IPO

By Eric Jackson
RealMoney Contributor

2/8/2011 7:30 AM EST
Click here for more stories by Eric Jackson

No ad from last night's Super Bowl has drawn as much ire as Groupon's ad about Tibet. Even though the company ran three ads last night -- at a cost of $10 million -- that all showed a similar sense of humor, the Tibet ad has potentially thrown a wrench into its IPO plans. In short, that single off-the-cuff ad might have forever closed the entire Chinese market to Groupon. How could this happen?

We live in a Twitter world, where the immediate slight is seized upon and analyzed. Kenneth Cole (KCP - commentary - Trade Now) found that out last week when the company's founder tweeted out an attempt at irony, saying the masses in Egypt didn't need to riot for the new Kenneth Cole collection. It has turned into aPR nightmare for him. Will it affect the actual operating revenue of the company? Hard to say at this point, but it certainly seems to fly in the face of the firm's carefully crafted image as the brand of global concern.

But the Groupon ad is far more damaging in the long run for that company, because it decided to trample over the China-Tibet issue and in the process send a damaging message to the Chinese government and Chinese users.

If Groupon had left it at the two ads focusing on "saving the whales" by going on a whale-watching tour and "saving the rainforest" by going for a Brazilian bikini wax, there would have been the regular post-Super Bowl complaints that the ads were dumb, and that would have been the end of it.

The Tibet ad tried to stick to the same sense of humor by contrasting the solemnity of a serious subject with the goofy idea of saving $15 off a fish curry at a Himalayan restaurant in Chicago. The problem -- besides choosing Tibet as a subject in the first place for a Super Bowl ad, knowing what a touchy subject it is with the Chinese government -- was in the solemn words Groupon chose: "The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy." The words suggest that Groupon sides with the Tibetan people in their political struggle with China -- and that it is the Chinese who are placing the future of the Tibetan culture in jeopardy.


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