February 06, 2011

Tone-deaf Tibetan Super Bowl ad

I wasn't sure I'd seen what I'd seen so I went to YouTube to have another look at Groupon's Super Bowl ad. Timothy Hutton begins seriously enough:

Mountainous Tibet. One of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in danger.

And then what follows is I guess a little like a punch line—and a pitch for Groupon:

But they still whip up an amazing fish curry! And since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com, we're each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at a Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.

For the amount you have to figure Groupon spent they didn't get their money's worth. The ad is as dumb as it is offensive. But don't take my word for it. Have a look yourself.


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saprishi81's picture

If the advertisement is offensive then this should not be continued. If there is any thing offensive then that ad should be banned. Sometimes restaurants arrange special cuisine. You could enjoy the special dishes of that particular cuisine. I check Albuquerque classifieds to get these information.

Will.Rowe's picture

The Superbowl is the most watched even annually in the US. I watch it usually, but I try to avoid all of the commercials. So I missed this one.

It is offensive to me since it is like a satire poking fun of Tibetians very real pilight for the sake of advertising for a restuarant in Chicago. The commercial could have mentioned the 65 million killed by Communist Chinese, including many Tibetians or given an actual manner of contributing to help refugees. It could even asked US citizens to stop purchasing goods from Communist China or contact our Congress to demand the US confront China concerning the millions of displaced Tibetans and other Chinese Communist attrocities in Tibet.

Sadly, it did none of this; instead, the commercial chose to try to sell a product at Tibetan's expense. However, I would urge all who also believe this commercial is offensive to exercise our freedom to spend our money where we wish and do not eat at this restaurant. In America we have this right.

Thanks for letting us know of this situation.

leland61's picture

It was a very American (Capitalist driven) advert. It is a perfect reflection of our culture which can trivialize anything and commodify anything in the name of profit. The world has suffered and continues to suffer amazing suffering in the name of Capitalism as an economic form that has negative effects on all of humanity, the non-human sentient beings who are being driven to extinction, and the Earth which is our Mother. The heart of Buddhism is sharing happiness and joy with all sentient beings. The heart of Capitalism is to make use of all living and non-living things regardless of the pain and suffering imposed. They are, IMHO, incompatible at the very core.

Tharpa Pema's picture

I believe you objectify "Americans" and "Capitalism" a bit too much. I know thousands Americans who are real, caring people, as real and as lovable as the Tibetan people. They perhaps idealize Capitalism too much, yet they have warm hearts and truly believe this system of economy has much to offer in terms of the peaceful distribution of resources.

I don't have to agree or disagree with their views in order to respect their humanity and intelligence and concern for the welfare of others. No doubt each of us have our blind spots, our fears, and our own ideas about who or what to blame, but we each also have tremendous potential for good.

When we acknowledge each others potential for good, we have a greater chance to be able to work together to improve the lives of everyone instead of reproducing the cycle of aggression. This is what Buddhist practice means to me.

One could substitute the word "Socialism" or any other "-ism" for "Capitalism" in your writing and find millions of people who believe the resulting statement and would feel misjudged by what you have written.

Aren't we all suffering from the same delusion: that these political ideologies define us rather than that we create, define, and project the political ideologies? Every time I try to force someone else to fit into my conceptual mold of "the enemy"--whatever I conceive that be--I commit an unjust act.

May all sentient beings--even "Capitalists"!--share happiness and joy.

With maitri, Linda

Tharpa Pema's picture

I am fascinated by Larry's "positive spin" on the advertisement. He demonstrates an admirable Buddhist quality--the ability to appreciate what is instead of regretting what isn't. If this ad represents the awareness of the company in question, it is what it is. They have continued the conversation instead of completely ignoring the controversial situation as most other advertisers and other folks have done. We can appreciate that fact as we move forward.

it is also important to share with the advertiser the feelings the ad aroused in us in a way that creates enough space for the company and its constituents to advance rather than regress in communication skills--with greater rather than lesser goodwill towards all people.

Perhaps one reason so many of us felt jarred by the commercial is that we take ourselves a little too seriously. Perhaps our reluctance to acknowledge the company's partially altruistic motives retards rather than promotes peace for the greatest number.

My initial reaction to the advertisement was aversion to its racist and classist connotations, its seeming preference for the superfical pleasures of the table rather than the hard work of building consensus among human beings the world over. Yet my Buddhist training alerted me to observe myself, to be aware of my own aversion.

Imagine the commercial done in a different way--a very serious approach to the pain of the Tibetan people and how we should all feel unhappy about that in the middle of the Super Bowl, one of the rare pleasures many hardworking people enjoy. What would have been the audience response to that?

Would such a commercial have generated more good will and resources to aid world understanding and prosperity? Or would more people have felt guilty, afraid, defensive, and angry, and in future verbally acted out their anger, or unconsciously shunned any thought or concern for Tibetans and other endangered people rather than repeat the pain they felt during the Super Bowl?

I don't know the answer to these questions. I do feel compelled by my Buddhist practice to ask them.

With compassion for us all, Linda

Dominic Gomez's picture

As far as the teachings of Buddhism themselves are concerned vis-a-vis the "many hardworking people" who watch the Super Bowl, I think the Bridgestone Tire beaver karma ad was more successful.

lleach's picture

Hi, Folks

Interesting because I thought the beaver more inappropriate for a program intended to be watched by children.

Maybe not everyone gets the sexual inference. I am sure in this case that inference was intended.

In the case of Groupon, it is now clear that their intents were positive and that the negative connotations reported here are in the minds of the complainers. Groupon has pulled the ads and publically apologized.

I expected better of those seeking to follow the Buddhist ways of compassion and loving kindness. I guess we all continue to learn.

I encourage you all contribute to helping the people of Tibet however you can.

Peace be with you.

Larry Leach

lleach's picture

Hi, All

Oops, my turn for apologies.

I didn't see the Bridgestone beaver commercial. It is fine.

The one I saw was supposedly rejected, so I suppose I did not see it on TV. It was with the NASCAR driver Danica Patrick...for GoDaddy.com.

Larry Leach

Tharpa Pema's picture

I checked out the Bridgestone beaver ad on YouTube. I like it very much. Sometimes iI find it's easier to feel compassion for small furry creatures than for members of our own species--they can seem so much less threatening.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Around the time members of our own species begin middle school, they also seem to become less warm and fuzzy--threatening, even.

James Shaheen's picture

Thanks for your response, Larry. Yes, they do good work. I've learned that. Their giving is admirable. I just didn't respond to the ad the way you did. I don't think they raised awareness, although curiously, Ed Schultz, whom I mentioned above, took the ad on this evening. He felt Groupon had nothing to apologize for since they donate so much of their revenues to those in need (I think that was his rationale, he was yelling so I only half listened; he may have said something about raising awareness, too). It still occurs to me, though, that it would have struck people very differently if the subject had been, say, Rwanda. Maybe it's the lack of awareness that made it possible, although again, I don't think it successfully raised awareness. But maybe I'll be proven wrong and I hope so.

I suppose it's a question of skillful means, and I also suppose that calling it "dumb" wasn't a good example of that! Point taken.

Pema Gilman's picture

When I saw it there was no connection made in my mind that buying curry coupons would directly help Tibetan people. The ad was very poorly scripted, period; it didn't get the message across!

lleach's picture

Hi, James

I have no idea what motivated CP&G. I had no idea when I saw it or first posted it that they had a many fronted charitable end working. This was only one Ad of several.

Looking at the response it created I am ever more gratified that they did it.

A major issue for Tibet is being ignored. Why do we get all the news coverage on Egypt, but nothing on Tibet? Why do we send billions to Egypt and little to Tibet? If ignored the Chinese will have their way much like the Nazi's had their way in Germany as the rest of the world looked away. IMHO almost anything to prevent that from happening is worth it.

There are positive things all of us can do to help the people of Tibet. Grousing about what someone else tried isn't one of them.

I know some will water their own negative seeds because they are focusing on what someone else is doing. I will suggest to you that all of the negative connotations suggested above are only in the minds of the commentors. I share none of them. I suspect those who worked hard to put out that wonderful ad also do not share them. I am sure their intention was entirely compassionate. I wish those feeding their own suffering my compassion to focus first on their own happiness and then to see what positive change they can help bring about. Regards,
Larry Leach

James Shaheen's picture

I see your point, Larry, but I have to say, however clever you thought it was, it seems to me it was crossing a line, something its creators—Crispin Porter & Bogusky—are apparently known for. I'm sure they had hoped to reach more than 1% of the intended audience, and I would guess they did, just as they likely knew they'd offend more than than 1%. I won't pretend to know their strategy, but the fact remains that anyone not particularly familiar with Groupon's charitable work had every reason to believe that the ad made light of a lot of suffering. Had the commercial dealt with nearly any other group, in fact, I doubt it could have aired.

There's little agreement in matters of taste. In my case, even if it had been clearer that Groupon did charitable work, I doubt I'd have disliked it any less. Crossing a line is a pretty easy way to grab attention and it's not what I'd call clever or, as one fan of the commercial put it, "subversive" (how can selling coupons be subversive?).

Raising hackles this way is more common nowadays than it isn't—I'd say we did it better as teenagers in the late 70s, but I'm old—and everyone from Glenn Beck to Ed Schultz does it. So I didn't find it particularly innovative, just a little snotty and smug. Worthy-cause-fatigue could have generated more humorous copy than that, and I'm hardly the politically correct type. Why not spoof do-gooders criticizing China while supporting one of our occupations abroad? But this is a matter of selling coupons—not a bad thing in itself—and why there was little real edge to this.

Ultimately, we don't know what marketing considerations motivated CP&G, although maybe you do; we also have little idea at this point to what extent they've succeeded or failed, which they'll assess themselves. Whatever the case, for all the money they spent it fell pretty flat.

yupi666's picture

yeah, an open ROI assesment would be very interesting

scout11's picture

Thanks for your compassion Larry- I too was struck with a negative reaction to this ad. It is unfortunate that the creators and ad buyers thought it was funny. I agree it is playing along with old and ignorant ways of stereotyping, and in particular exoticizing the Tibetan culture. I wondered for a second if they were trying to make fun of their own capitalist agenda with such a quick cut to Timothy Hutton in his swanky suit but they didn't quite make that level of funny. It was lacking for sure. Dealing with the institutionalized racism is difficult and also necessary. Finding compassion for the creators, buyers, and consumers doesn't make it respectable, but it does help me have peace with what is, even if I don't agree with it. The commercial has become a reminder for me that I have the ability to discuss the values and politics of what we consume (as Superbowl watchers). I think the one percent who may have learned that the Tibetan culture is suffering (for the first time) are likely to also have learned that Groupon really doesn't care about that.
Anyhow, thanks for talking about this. I just joined this online community and I am glad to be able to be a part of this discussion.

yupi666's picture

I don't buy the whole 'any publicity is good publicity' philosophy, mockery dehumanizes people into a pun, and the add makes a clear point that their concerns aren't primordial as long as you can get a cheap plate of curry, and then you get the stereotypical asian servant that should stay in the kitchen.
it reminds me of sexists jokes on magazine ads of the fifties and sixties and minstrel shows. Not because the are blacks were doing it and the money went to blacks it was good for black people

lleach's picture

I send compassion to you folks.

If you don't already contribute to a save Tibet fund, you might try: http://savethemoney.groupon.com/

Even if only one percent got the right idea from the ad that is over one million people. I challenge each of you who are opposed to outdo that.

Larry Leach

yupi666's picture

I have shared my knowledge and my views about the situation in tibet in my community, and not just to my friends either, organizing buddhist lectures open to the public provides a great opportunity to talk about this pressing issues afterwards, all without shocking the way into peoples heads by denigrating anyone, and it hasn't cost three million dollars. I don't think whoever got the right idea from the ad would be interested in the tibetan cause, as the only idea i see picture clear (and what was obviously in the draft) is that groupon can get you half off on xyz products

the guys at the advertising agency did a crappy job, but it was faithful to what they wanted to say. If the idea had been making the troubles in Tibet known, or even to link groupon with the cause, they would have done it but it is not the case.

You just have to read the comments on the youtube page from the people that 'got' the ad to see they couldn't be more oblivious to the tibetan issues, and thats alright since thats not the point of the ad at all.

In the best case scenario what's supposed to stick is the discount, the other part is simply a set up ad a punchline. It's a rascist joke and nothing more. If they had included the http://savethemoney.groupon.com/ link as they considered, that'd be a hint of concern, but they didn't because it was not the main ocncern, it was selling some good ole fish curry.. with a zing

What I do like about this all is the attention this is getting from us, the public, because this IS helping spread the word, but our healthy reaction to it is as responsible for it as the mishap that triggered it

Reagards to you too, in mindful compassion.

st.nyc's picture

I think it was someone's idea of brilliant creative work but I found it appalling and in bad taste. It makes light of the systematic destruction of a culture for commercial gain. I can't see the upside to presenting it in such a cavalier way since the ad will be remembered but not for the right reasons.

lleach's picture

Hi Again, Folks

After further thought, I am more and more impressed by whoever it is that managed to get this into a superbowl ad. It may not seem like much:

"The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in danger."

At $100,000 per second, I get about half a million dollars as the cost for exposing those words to 130,000,000 people.

I can just imagine the one person somewhere concieving of this incredible opportuntity...somthing most of us will never have in our lives. That person must have been incredibly tenacious to get that through all of the forces arrayed against it. How incredibly clever and forceful. I see this as the best example in a long time of engaged Buddhism. Wow!

Wouldn't it be great if we could find out who that person was and send her Kudos?

Larry Leach

lleach's picture

Hi, Folks

How interesting.

I was very pleased by the Ad. I thought, "What a wonderful way to get across the problem in Tibet to millions and millions of people".

I also thought "How clever to use this media this way. Of course the company can't use the shareholders money to run such an expensive bit without linking it to commercial gain."

I think they did FAR more for the Tibetian problem than those sitting at their TVs looking for something to criticize.

The way to happiness is to feed the seeds of compassion and joy.

Larry Leach

Florae's picture

Perhaps many people will have noticed that Tibetans are in need as well as the ad.

talongrywolf's picture

I know I felt in limbo for a moment....I just could not believe it. Then the oh my goodness moment hit....'they really cannot be saying/doing this'. Why would they say/do this?..went through my mind.

Thank you Tricycle for being here. Metta to all. Compassion to all.

May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

saffdaddt's picture

Honestly, I thought I was missing something.

yupi666's picture

the project manager and the creative of the agency probably thin they're so clever when its only a 'chink' joke like they used to do in the fifties, just paying the joke on the minority (a minority that can't answer because of their socioeconomic distance) just change the subject of the joke for a larger, more present minority and you can see how tasteless it actually is

talongrywolf's picture

Very good point. I thought the same. You replace Tibetan with any minoirty and it is the same horrible thing....tasteless...and disgusting.

Thanks for the comment.

hodo's picture

My friend and I were watching it, and were like wow..there's Tibet. And then, we were like what just happened...it is a pretty stupid ad.

smo404's picture

I'm speechless. What a disgrace.