Much has been written about Groupon’s PR missteps at the Superbowl over the last two days. Their three ads (representing a $3 million ad buy) poked fun at celebrity-endorsed PSAs for endangered whales, the Brazilian rainforest, and Tibet. The ads were variously described as in bad taste or simply poor communications because they failed to mention that Groupon was matching people’s donations to these causes up to $100,000.
What the Groupon ads do offer, however, are useful lessons in a) effective communication in today’s social business marketplace; b) what happens when traditional and social media mentalities collide and; c) how well-intended cause marketing must be managed for a brand to resonate with consumers. Let’s take them one by one.
a) Clearly the audience for the Superbowl is enormous and varied but one thing today’s consumers share is a heightened awareness of global crises, causes and social issues thanks to information on the Internet shared in real time using social media. As such, there is a level of sophistication to consumer’s understanding of the challenges the world faces, and specific causes such as Tibet, the environment or the oceans. It is a dangerous tactic to poke fun at these issues even if your brand is the butt of the joke. At worst, such strategies are seen to put the brand’s desire for you to like them above the gravity of these causes. At best, the Groupon ads were inspired by good intentions but they weren’t clearly communicated, which means the ads were poorly executed.
b) As such, the Groupon campaign is a powerful demonstration of a traditional media mindset being applied to a social media marketplace. It demonstrated a failure to understand that effective communication now requires that a brand be the chief celebrant of a community rather than its celebrity. In this case, the awkward attempt at humor may be due in part to the expectation that these were to be “Superbowl ads.” As such, the humor overwhelmed the intent, leaving the commercials falling between the two stools.
This mistake is especially odd since Groupon is a daily deal platform that turns on collective action whose dynamics now drive much of the social media marketplace. As such, the driver of all communications should be their community. Plus Groupon understands very well how the marketplace has changed. The Superbowl is no longer the largest platform for a brand to talk about itself, but rather an amazing opportunity to amplify the needs, wants and hopes of a brand community.
c) Cause marketing by brands is on the rise for a very good reason – these universal values allow brands to be innately relevant and sharable within social media communities. But greater brand adoption does not make these issues any less sensitive, especially to customers. A brand must earn serious credentials within the social change space before it can confidently take license with the seriousness of cause issues. Even though Groupon’s roots are in social activism through The Point and now with G-Team Initiative, they miscalculated how to use cause marketing because the majority of the Superbowl audience knows little about them and even less about their meaningful cause efforts. It’s no surprise then that consumers mistook them as appropriating cause issues for the sake of humor in a way that left people shaking their heads.
So what does Groupon do? Andrew Mason, Groupon CEO, has written a blog post that aims to justify their strategy while also explaining their intentions. Such justification will have little effect after the fact and it’s tortuous logic to argue that at least the bad publicity has brought greater attention to these causes. But a clear statement of their true intentions is a great start. While he falls short of apologizing, Mason does state:
“The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers – it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.”
Fair enough, and few doubt their good intentions. If nothing else, the campaign serves as a lesson in the perils of a headlong rush to create a “Superbowl ad campaign”, the distraction of being an e-commerce darling in a blooming IPO marketplace, and in the recognition that while causes make good marketing they are far more important than that.
Do you believe the Groupon campaign has been unfairly judged? How do you think they are handling the PR fallout?
As powerfully demonstrated by films such as Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere, the U.S. public school education system is in desperate need of greater support and new thinking. A mother of three young boys, Tania Mulry, 37, has taken this issue head on by developing an iPhone app that makes school fund-raising quick, easy and effective.
Called EdRover, this new iPhone app will roll out early in 2011 allowing you to donate to your favorite school simply by checking in to local businesses through GPS. Moms, dads, students, relatives and community members can use it to find local stores that have signed up to make small donations to schools when people use the app to check in at their locations. For their part, businesses that contribute to the schools become part of the app that serves as an incentive for shoppers to come by.
Mulry explains the inspiration of the app this way:
When I took an inventory of my passions and problems that needed solutions, I sought a way to help kids across the US gain access to vital educational supplies and experiences, which presently are being cut furiously from state and federal budgets. Combining my experience in mobile marketing, passion for education and determination as a mother, I concocted a whole new approach to fundraising for education. And I knew that my contacts at large retailers would come in handy, too.
This is a truly inspired use of mobile technology and social media to engage a school’s community in a much needed free fundraising platform. Users will be able to choose from 99,000 pre-programmed schools to receive the donation from their check-in. As Mulry explains “There are 75 million students nationwide. Think about all the people they’re connected to.”
With this is mind EdRover stands as a powerful example of how to use social technology to leverage the community ties between us to address critical needs like public school education when traditional solutions are not solving the problem fast enough. If a mother of three young boys can find the time and energy to develop such an inspired and timely concept, my hope is that we can find the time to support her.
Do you think school communities can help solve the public school education funding problem? Or do you think its the sole responsibility of government and the National Union of Teachers?
NOTE: edRover will be available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad through the App Store, but anyone with a smart phone should be able to participate by the end of 2011.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, many wearing bandages from from days of street fighting, turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday for what they are calling the ‘Day of Departure’, a nationwide cry for the immediate removal and prosecution of Hosni Mubarak who has ruled the country for 30 years. This story is now larger than Egypt and the Arab world, as international news coverage and social media has broadcast the escalating violence around the world, time and again featuring Egyptian citizens dying and risking death in order to have their message heard and for regime change to become a reality. Egypt is widely considered the litmus test for what will happen in the rest of the Arab world, but the importance of social media in its political transformation is larger than that. The use of social media in Egypt is a dramatic demonstration of a clash of cultures – of the old and new, of violence and peace, of the past and future. Or a noted Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey wrote in a tweet from Tahrir Square today:
One group is peaceful and uses technology, the other is violent and uses rocks to smash your head. Which side do u wanna take? #jan25
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, questioned the activist value of social media in The New Yorker in late 2010 asserting that social media are ineffective tools for serious social transformation. His much-debated article, entitled “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” argued that social media creates little more than “weak ties” between people warning “Weak ties seldom lead to high risk activism.” By comparison, Gladwell cited the activism of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which required considerable mental strength and mutual commitment among the groups of black protesters who staged restaurant sit-ins and protest rallies, often under threats of violence and even death. Gladwell maintains this position in regard to the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia writing:
“Surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”
Despite Gladwell’s disinterest, the courage of protesters in China (over the suppression of the Nobel prize winner Lui Xiaobo), Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, to face violence and then share their story using social media is important because of the scalable connectivity it enables. While Gladwell is right to assert that social media is largely used to exchange trivial information, it is a mistake to limit its transformative potential to the worst excesses of its current practice, denying that technology and the dynamics it enables will mature and grow along with its users, especially in dramatic circumstances such as the protests in Egypt.
“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race. More people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase…makes the change unprecedented.”
2. Groups of people using social media to form communities, congregating around shared values, whether they are focused on a politician, cause or brand, such as we see in Egypt.
3. Connections between people across platforms, as conversations around shared values and ideas migrate tirelessly from one network to another and amongst different groups. As Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture wrote in response to Gladwell silo-ed understanding of social media:
“We do not live on a platform; we live across platforms. We choose the right tools for the right jobs. We need to look at the full range of tools a movement deploys at any given moment–including some old fashion ones like door-to- door canvassing, public oratory, and street corner petitions, to understand the work which goes into campaigns for social change.”
4. Dialogues that go on between governments and citizens, or between brands and their consumer communities, using social media.
5. Interactions between the private sector, governments and non-profits, often with consumers or citizens as intermediaries.
6. The commingling of the virtual and real worlds through the parallel universes constructed within social games and virtual worlds. For example, the use of virtual goods within Zynga’s Farmville game on Facebook to raise funds for earthquake victims in Haiti.
By offering these six levels of engagement, social media provides a complex and deep infrastructure perfect for the activist processes of social transformation—which include information acquisition, knowledge development, transfer and sharing; ideation and thought leadership; empathy and emotional connection; and the spread of credible ideas that inspire cognitive dissonance. These tools are accessible to everyone, available 24/7, infinitely scalable, real time and free. As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone succinctly wrote in response to Gladwell’s article, “Lowering the barrier to activism doesn’t weaken humanity, it brings us together and it makes us stronger.”
As more people use social media to tell the story of the future, the wants and needs of more people will be reflected. Like all technology, social media is neutral but is best put to work in the service of building a better world. This week that involves the tragic loss of so many lives in Egypt as its citizens take to the streets to draft a new chapter in the their history. Their courage, sacrifice and story should not be dismissed or diminished for in the mutually dependent global community we now live in, or what I call a We First world, their story is our own.
Do you believe social media can accelerate social change? Or do you see its importance on par with all other media?
As GOOD magazine reported yesterday, Alex Bogusky and John Bielenberg, have launched a new social entrepreneurship platform called COMMON that is part incubator and part creative community that enables collaboration to find better solutions to pressing social problems. Bogusky, who transformed Crispin, Porter, …Read more
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-nWKaCZBjQ Visit www.wefirstbook.com Hi, I’m Simon Mainwaring. Thanks for your time and your support of my blog. Over the last two years we’ve been looking at a few really important questions. How does the economy recover? How does your company …Read more
Having already written about SwipeGood and Ticket’sforchairty.com, I wanted to finish the week with one more example of an exciting use of social media to drive positive change. In my mind these aren’t just well-intended companies that deserve our full …Read more
The most potentially transformative impact of social media is its ability to encourage brands to marry profit and purpose. The reason brands participate is that such outreach earns those companies social currency enabling them to start or participate in conversations …Read more
The New York Times featured an article this week on Barnes & Noble’s use of a special iPhone app that allowed Brooklyn Decker, Esquire’s sexiest woman alive, to appear in the store aisles. Ms. Decker wasn’t actually there but by …Read more
Enter your name and email to receive 3 free social branding training videos and bonus content.Subscribe via RSS
We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.