Groupon’s Super Bowl Commercial and Other PR Controversies

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One of Groupon’s Super Bowl commercials has been generating controversy since last Sunday. The ad features actor Timothy Hutton telling us that “the people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in trouble,” referencing Tibet’s long history of suffering and oppression.

Hutton then continues, “…but they still whip up an amazing fish curry.” Yeesh.

As you can imagine, the ad left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Many Twitter users angrily tweeted that the ad made light of very serious issues in Tibet.  The Groupon “apology” maintained that the ad was intended as a spoof of their own company. Marketing experts are divided: Some declared the campaign a success, since it generated so much publicity. Others thought the Groupon’s reference to Tibet was in poor taste.

In the age of social media, this kind of news blows up quickly.

Here are four other PR moves that stirred up controversy.

1. Kenneth Cole’s Egypt Tweet

Last week, fashion company Kenneth Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”

News of the tasteless tweet instantly went viral. Many Twitter users flung back angry tweets within the hour. Someone even created a fake Kenneth Cole PR Twitter account complete with hilarious fake tweets in similarly poor taste.

2. Pepsi’s iPhone App

In 2009, Pepsi released an iPhone app called “Amp Up Before You Score.” The app listed various “types” of women and a “cheat sheet of the stuff [they're] into.” Pepsi eloquently described it as a “road map to success for your favorite kinds of women.” Best of all, the app featured a “brag sheet” where one could keep a handy list of their various conquests.

Needless to say, the app did not sit well with, you know, halfway decent human beings. It’s no longer available in the app store. Sorry, chauvinists.

3. Nike’s Tiger Woods Commercial

In April 2010, a post-sex scandal Tiger Woods returned to the PGA tour and starred in a dramatic Nike commercial. The commercial featured a solemn Woods staring into the camera while a voiceover recording of his deceased father, Earl Woods, played. The ad ends with the late Woods asking “Did you learn anything?

Some liked the unusually emotional ad, but many people felt that it was exploitative. I have to agree–using your subject’s sex scandal to make a buck is bad enough, but throwing in his late father’s voice is almost cartoonishly tasteless.

4. Glee Actors’ Magazine Photo Shoots

In October of last year, a racy Photos of Glee actors in GQ caused something of a scandal. The Parents Television Council called the photos “near-pornographic” and decried the sexualization of actors who portray teenagers on the show. Others argued that since none of the actors involved were actually underage, there was nothing scandalous about the photos.

Just this week, Glee star Lea Michele posed for the cover of Cosmopolitan in a low-cut blouse. Not surprisingly, this has caused pretty much the exact same scandal as the aforementioned GQ photos caused. Such is the life of an adult who plays a teenager on TV.

What are some of your favorite PR controversies?

Comments (4)

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  1. stella.louise

    3 years ago

  2. Allegra.Ringo

    3 years ago

    Stella- haha, zing!

    Comment
  3. deboognir

    3 years ago

    The fact that Tiger Woods even agreed to do that ad is yet again evidence of his poor decision making skills.

    Comment
  4. deboognir

    3 years ago

    The Conan spoof is brilliant!

    Comment
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