Groupon
A Groupn ad shown during the Super Bowl appeared to make light of the political situation in Tibet.
msnbc.com
updated 2/8/2011 3:47:58 PM ET 2011-02-08T20:47:58

Groupon may have been one of the least-known companies to advertise on Super Bowl Sunday, but it’s getting a lion’s share of the day-after buzz.

Too bad it’s for the wrong reason.

The online deals site managed to attract the scorn of customers, brand experts and even some Chinese residents with a pair of ads that seemed to make light of the fraught political situation in Tibet and deforestation in Brazil.

On Monday, Groupon founder Andrew Mason responded to the criticism, writing on the company blog that the ads were meant to highlight causes it finds important, and not to offend people or trivialize the causes.

  1. More must-see stories
    1. The Hartford Courant, Political
      Wild Wall St.

      Has the market volatility got you nervous? These cartoons may give you a little comic relief.

    2. Cyber-thieves create fake Kelley Blue Book site
    3. US says Reebok toning shoes don't really
    4. Can you live on $9 an hour? Play the game

In the Tibet ad, sweeping views of Tibet and a serious voiceover about the troubles facing the region gives way to Timothy Hutton gloating about a Groupon deal he got for Tibetan food.

In the other ad, Elizabeth Hurley narrates a voiceover on the Brazilian rainforest before concluding cheerily that not all deforestation is bad, referring to a Brazilian bikini wax.

(You can watch and rate all the Super Bowl ads here .)

A slew of Twitter posts complained that the ads were offensive and off the mark, drowning out those who thought they were funny.

“Well. Off to buy a new #Chrysler, drink a #Coke, switch to #Verizon, unsubscribe to #Groupon and fire #GoDaddy. Night #superbowl#brandbowl@Reputationista, aka reputation counselor Linda Locke, tweeted.

New Yorker writer Tad Friend tweeted ”groupon's tibet commercial was so appalling it made me cancel their daily email; it turned a vague dislike into enmity.”

Others began tweeting faux Groupon ads, taking a similar tack with issues as global warming, homelessness and crime rates.

A slew of negative Twitter posts is one thing, but others questioned whether the ads could have serious consequences for the fast-growing company's international expansion.

NBC’s Adrienne Mong, writing on the Behind the Wall blog, said the ads “managed to do the seemingly impossible: unite the Free Tibet crowd with China nationalists in their outrage at the commercial.”

The website paidContent.org was one of many to compare the ads to fashion retailer Kenneth Cole’s flubbed Twitter post last week. That retailer was lambasted for appearing to make light of the protests in Egypt by joking that they were rallying over the company's products.

The ad controversy comes just months after Groupon reportedly rebuffed a buyout offer from Google — a master at the Super Bowl ad —  and amid rumors that Groupon may be prepping for an initial public offering .

Chicago-based Groupon has traditionally reveled in its quirky nature. On a “Today” interview late last year, company CEO Mason deflected a question about Google’s rumored offer with a meandering story about his childhood .

In a blog post on its website, Groupon conceded that Super Bowl ads are hard to do well and noted that “Our peculiar taste in humor made it really hard for outside agencies to come up with concepts we liked.”

The company said it settled on the mockumentary format because of its philanthropic origins. The ads on its website feature links to donate to the causes the ads makes light of.

“Since we grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site (ThePoint.com) and ended up selling coupons, we loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause,” the company said in the post.

Some users said they liked the ads. But even on its own turf, Groupon was drawing criticism.

One user commented: “You guys have a fine coupon site. Probably, though, you should stay out of politics.”

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Groupon pulls 'Tibet' Super Bowl ad

Explainer: Companies looking to go public in 2011

  • Image: Andrew Mason
    Noah Berger  /  Polaris
    Groupon CEO Andrew Mason might be smiling about an IPO this year.

    It’s not quite the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, but this year analysts expect to see a flood of Internet companies offering shares on the financial markets, hoping to become the next Amazon.com or Google.

    Many of the most prominent companies expected to launch public stock offerings this year are in the social media space, including the professional-networking site LinkedIn and the discount service Groupon. Both are expected to debut as public companies ahead of the 800-pound gorilla of social media, Facebook, which is likely to make its public debut either late this year or in 2012, analysts say.

    Some three-quarters of the investment bank executives surveyed by BDO USA LLP, an accounting and consulting firm, expect to see growth in initial public stock offerings on U.S. exchanges this year compared with last year. Those bankers predict an 11 percent increase in the number of U.S. IPOs in 2011, with an average offering size of $268 million, making for more than $45 billion in total proceeds (up about 18 percent over 2010), according to the survey.

    The list of other names expected to offer shares to the public this year includes “refurbished” companies like Chrysler, which filed bankruptcy in early 2009 and is now controlled by Fiat, and Toys R Us, the toy retailer that was taken off the market in 2005 by a collection of private equity firms. Harrah’s Entertainment, which was taken private three years ago, is also expected to go public this year. These IPOs come as private equity firms look to exit portfolios of companies bought at the height of the buyout boom of 2005 to 2007.

    Bankers and investors say the latest social media entrepreneurs, unlike those from the dot-com boom in the 1990s, do not view an initial offering as essential to generating the type of financing their predecessors needed for rapid growth.

    Companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Zynga already generate millions of dollars in revenue. And some wealthy investors can already invest in such companies through private secondary markets, where they have pushed valuations to astonishing heights. Facebook, for example, has an implied valuation of $54 billion on SharesPost, an exchange where qualified individual investors can buy shares of privately-held companies before they go public.

    Here are some of the companies frequently mentioned as likely IPO candidates for the coming year.

  • Facebook

    Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images

    Founded in a Harvard dorm room in 2004 and now boasting 500 million members and counting, Facebook is an astonishing success as a social network. The Web site, led by Mark Zuckerberg, challenges giants like Google and Yahoo for users’ time online and advertising dollars. A public stock offering for the company now seems likely, possibly this year and if not in 2012. It could be the most highly anticipated technology stock offering since Google's IPO in 2004. Goldman Sachs recently invested $500 million into the company along with Russian firm Digital Sky Technologies, valuing Facebook at $50 billion. On top of that the bank is selling $1.5 billion of Facebook stock to Goldman’s wealthiest clients, although it recently decided to exclude U.S. investors after the transaction threatened to upset U.S. regulators. The SEC reportedly is looking into whether Facebook has more than 499 shareholders, which would require it to start making its financial results public. At that point the company might as well go ahead and list its shares on the public markets, said Wendy Hambleton, national SEC director at BDO USA, LLP, a consulting services company.

  • Groupon

    Image: Andrew Mason
    Noah Berger  /  Polaris

    The leading online coupon provider — which recently turned down a takeover bid from Google that reportedly valued it at $6 billion — is reportedly working toward a public offering of stock by the end of 2011. An IPO for Groupon, led by CEO Andrew Mason (pictured), could raise between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, CNBC reported. That would rank among the largest tech IPOs in the United States of the past decade, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    At the end of 2010, the fast-growing online coupon seller said it has been authorized to raise up to $950 million in what is said to be the biggest round of private equity financing by any company since Pixar sought around $500 million in 1995. The tech startup has attracted funding from several big institutional investors including Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price and Morgan Stanley, reports say.

  • LinkedIn

    NICHOLAS KAMM  /  AFP - Getty Images

    The social-networking site for professionals recently filed to raise up to $175 million in an IPO. LinkedIn has posted sequentially increasing revenue in each of the past seven quarters (it has posted several quarterly losses during that period), but the company has been profitable for the past two quarters, according to its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Shares of LinkedIn already trade on secondary exchange SharesPost, where wealthy investors can buy them for $30 each, valuing the website at almost $3 billion, according to Bloomberg.

  • Chrysler

    DAVID ZALUBOWSKI  /  AP

    General Motors’ triumphant return to the public markets late last year with a $20.1 billion offering, the biggest in U.S. history, looks set to spur rival Chrysler, now controlled by Italy’s Fiat, to return to public trading. Both automakers were on the brink of liquidation in 2009 when they filed for bankruptcy reorganization with the help of billions of dollars in government loans. While GM was a publicly traded firm, Chrysler had been take private and was controlled by equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. Cerberus acquired the company from DaimlerChrysler after Chrysler merged with the German automaker in 1998. Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne recently said Chrysler's public stock debut is set for the second half of 2011.

  • Twitter

    ADAM HUNGER  /  Reuters

    Another big name in the so-called social IPO explosion is Twitter. The micro-blogging site has fended off several buyers and is hotly tipped to go public, although the company’s chief executive Dick Costolo, recently said Twitter intends to remain an independent company and is not considering going public. The company received a $200 million injection of funding in the fourth quarter of 2010, the largest of any company for the quarter. Twitter, which launched in 2006, has attracted nearly 200 million users who collectively broadcast over 100 million tweets daily.

  • Skype

    KAREN BLEIER  /  AFP - Getty Images

    The Luxembourg-based software company, popular for its cheap voice and video calls over the Internet, signaled its intention to go public in August when it filed a registration statement (a S-1 filing) with the SEC. The company looks set to move forward with an initial public offering of up to $1 billion, probably this year. Goldman Sachs is leading the underwriting effort, along with several other banks including JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital and Citigroup. In November 2009, Skype was acquired from eBay by an investor group led by Silver Lake that included the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

  • Zynga

    Image:
    Zynga

    Zynga, which develops social online games, is seen as another potential IPO candidate. The company makes such popular games as FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Zynga Poker (playable on Facebook, MySpace, the iPad and the iPhone) and boasts more than 225 million monthly active users. But despite the IPO chatter, the game-maker is in no hurry to go public, according to a report in the New York Times. Instead, Zynga plans to continue building its business, but if other social media sites launch successful public offerings this year the lure of cashing in on the boom might make the company change its mind.

  • Toys R Us

    Mary Altaffer  /  AP

    The New Jersey-based retailer, which operates stores under its namesake brand and also under the Babies R Us and FAO Schwarz labels, is looking to go public, most likely in 2011. The world's largest dedicated toy retailer opened hundreds of temporary stores and stayed open for 88 consecutive hours through 10 p.m. on Dec. 24 in a bid to win shoppers during the key holiday shopping season. Strong holiday sales should help the toy retailer's efforts to go public, according to analysts. The toy retailer was taken private by private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust in 2005 in a $6.6 billion deal. In May 2010, it filed to raise as much as $800 million in an initial public offering. Toys R Us faces tough competition from discounter retailers Wal-Mart Stores, Target and online retailers like Amazon.com. Toymakers Hasbro and Mattel are also making efforts to sell directly to shoppers and ramping up their online segments. Booksellers and drugstores have also bolstered plans to grab a bite of the holiday toy sales pie. Toys R Us is looking to differentiate itself by offering more exclusive items.

  • Pandora

    Pandora

    Internet radio company Pandora is another online company moving ahead with plans for an initial public offering, according to news reports. The company recently met with bankers about a possible $100 million IPO and could soon pick banks to lead the offering.

  • Harrah’s Entertainment

    JAE C. HONG  /  AP

    Harrah’s, which is changing its name to Caesars Entertainment, shelved its planned IPO in late 2010, citing market conditions, but analysts say the company may try again in 2011. The economic downturn hit the casino industry hard, and the casino operator was taken private by a handful of private equity firms in late 2006 in one of the largest leveraged buyouts in history. Harrah's operates about 50 casinos, primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom, mostly under the Caesars, Harrah’s and Horseshoe brands.

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.32%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.36%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 11.04%
11.04%
Cash Back Cards 16.44%
16.44%
Rewards Cards 16.04%
16.04%
Source: Bankrate.com