This video advertising Groupon was aired during the 2011 Superbowl. As you can imagine, adverts aired during the most popular sporting event of the year get a lot of exposure to various different consumer markets and target customers. Groupon tried to use shock and controversy in this advert to stand out and make their advert seem more memorable to the audience. However, by trivialising such a relevant and important subject as Tibet, the audience was offended and Groupon pulled the advert four days later.
Waller (1999) conducted a survey of business students to find out what they found offensive about particular adverts and whether these adverts were successful. A questionnaire was conducted involving 125 students, they were asked to rate their level of personal offence (using the Likert scale) of controversial/taboo subjects that could be mentioned in advertising e.g. political parties, racially extremist groups etc. He found that although offensive adverts were more memorable, results showed that too offensive adverts could cause a drop in sales and even a boycotting of the product. This could lead to not only the brand being negatively affected, but the agency behind the campaign as well. Interestingly, females were more likely to be offended by adverts than males. This supports the idea that using such a controversial subject as Tibet in Groupon's advert caused a withdrawal of the advert because too many people were offended (since it was shown at such a peak time).
However, Sabri (2012) found that taboo and controversial advertising can be successful when personal and interpersonal factors of the consumer are considered. Therefore, if Groupon had targeted a more specific market and tailored their advert more to them instead of such a huge general audience as the Superbowl, their advert may have been more successful and would not have been seen as so offensive.
Sabri, O. (2012). Preliminary investigation of the communication effects of 'taboo' themes in advertising. European Journal of Marketing, 46, 215-236.
Waller, D. (1999). Attitudes towards offensive advertising: An Australian study. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 16, 288-294.