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Groupon’s Apology – Too Little, Too Late?

By Lauren | March 23, 2011

Recently, Masters degree candidate Jamie Davis offered to make a guest post on my blog. I thought he did a terrific job, and hope you’ll agree. Here’s Jamie:

As noted in Ms. Bloom’s book, apologizing is an art. And just like any art, it requires a sense of timing and purpose. The best apologies are always those which are sincere, well-thought out, and, perhaps most importantly, ones that are timely. Waiting too long to apologize can be interpreted as begrudging “crying uncle” of sorts, an apology that is made simply to bow down to public pressure to do so. In the wake of social media coupon company Groupon’s controversial Super Bowl ads, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason did just that. Despite the obvious anger of millions of customers, Mason was initially defensive and tried to explain what he was trying to achieve with his company’s commercials, not apologizing until several days later.

First, for those who missed the media firestorm, here’s a little background. The commercial that raised so many eyebrows during a sports event in which advertisements receive as much scrutiny as the game itself featured actor Timothy Hutton. It begins as a typical ad intending to raise awareness for an important social issue in this case Tibet. The punch line ends with Hutton explaining that aside from all the problems in Tibet, Groupon enables you to get discounts on Tibetan cuisine. Although the commercial intended to both highlight a problem and make fun of the company itself, millions of viewers felt that the ad trivialized the Tibetan plight.

Regardless of whether or not the commercial was self-serving or put out in good faith, there was a substantial group of people who were offended by the ad. In the wake of the ad controversy, Mason spent several days standing behind his commercials, trying his best to explain his company’s real intentions. However, what Mason failed to understand is the age old maxim the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Mason also failed to recognize a central component of good communication it’s not how the message is designed that matters, it’s how it is received. Empathy isn’t merely a case of having aligned feelings with others; it requires you to actively understand others feelings especially when they don’t align with yours.

Mason finally did apologize in a blog post several days later, finally relenting to customer and media complaints. He pulled the ads, and wrote on Groupon’s blog:

“We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did it’s the last thing we wanted. We’ve listened to your feedback, and since we don’t see the point in continuing to anger people, we’re pulling the ads (a few may run again tomorrow pulling ads immediately is sometimes impossible). We will run something less polarizing instead. We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through. I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads.”

There are a few things going on here that are worthy of critique. For one, “we don’t see the point in continuing to anger people,” is a classic indicator of apologizing for the sake of apologizing. Moreover, reiterating points brought up in the previous defensive blog post by saying “we thought we were poking fun of ourselves” again demonstrates Mason’s “I’m sorry, but…” line of thinking.

What do you think of the Groupon debacle? Was Mason’s apology well-executed? Or was it too little, too late?

This guest contribution was submitted by Jamie Davis; comments and questions can be sent to davis.jamie17@gmail.com. Jamie enjoys writing about his masters degree.

Topics: Apologies, business communications, Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Groupon’s Apology – Too Little, Too Late?”

  1. Groupon's Apology – Too Little, Too Late? | The Business Ethics Blog | Midia Social Says:
    March 23rd, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    [...] See the original post here: Groupon's Apology – Too Little, Too Late? | The Business Ethics Blog [...]