Controversial Groupon Super Bowl Commercial Exploits Tibet for Laughs

I was only half-watching Super Bowl XLV today, but my attention was piqued when an ad featuring Asians (Tibetans) appeared on my TV. It turns out, it was an ad by Groupon, featuring Timothy Hutton which opened with what seemed to be an impassioned plea for the oppressed people of Tibet. Suddenly, Tibet became a punchline about delicious food that you could get for cheap through their site.

Quoting Timothy Hutton in the Groupon Ad:

The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry.

This happens to be one of Groupon’s first forays into television advertising, so the backlash on various social media channels was immediate:

  • “Groupon exploits Tibetan plight for giggles? Why?” (via Salon on Twitter)
  • “I’m sorry, but did just exploit the fact that Tibet isn’t free for a COMMERCIAL?
    Yes, yes it did. As soon as I realized what was going on, I felt sick. Fuck you, Groupon. Fuck you.” (Mohandas Gandhi on Tumblr)
  • “Millions of jews were murdered through starvation at Auschwitz… but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this GREAt brisket at Katz’s Delicatessen, thanks to Groupon!” (via crock703 on YouTube)
  • “Dear @Groupon – over a million Tibetans have been killed during Chinese occupation. Your ad wasn’t funny.” (via Devbost on Twitter)
  • “Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.” (via RohitBhargava on Twitter)

Huffington Post asks “Is Groupon exploiting tragedy in Tibet for its own business with this ad? Is this similar to Kenneth Cole’s misguided Cairo message, though played out in front of millions more during the Super Bowl?”

To me, this is just another ad in a long list of annoying (or offensive) Super Bowl commercials which featured Asians: See 2009 Doritos ad, and 2007 ads for previous ads.

Some people, like Boribella, have already written complaints to Groupon and their response is unapologetic:

Hi ___________,
Thanks for your feedback!

We certainly don’t mean to offend with our advertisements. We think renting celebrities to promote our “Save the Money” campaign is pretty funny, but we understand if it doesn’t tickle you the right way.

In fact, we’re already raising awareness and funds for organizations who are doing work around these causes. Please go to and you will have the opportunity to donate to any of these causes. Groupon will gladly match your donation.

Additionally, we do occasionally feature other real charities on our site, so if you have any suggestions for us, please let us know here:

Thanks again for your feedback! Let me know if you have any other suggestions or questions.

Dave M
[email protected]

A lot has been made press about the Groupon being the “fastest growing company in history,” but if the Twitterverse has anything to say about this, Groupon’s first Super Bowl commercial is more fumble than touchdown. What do you think about it and will it affect your decision about whether or not to buy/use Groupons in the future?

For more information on the real plight of Tibetans — and not their “amazing fish curry” — see 10 Facts about Tibet via

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About jozjozjoz

jozjozjoz is a taiwanese-american gal who lives and blogs underneath the hollywood sign and who doesn’t clean her fishtank unless the fish starts to do the backstroke. she is also able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but cannot stop from bumping into door handles, cabinet doors, and anything else that protrudes or has a sharp edge. she does not run with scissors for this same reason. she can pet the fur off a dog but don’t ask her to go anywhere near a horse. or a moth. or a roach. her dealings with L.A.’s finest (aka the parking violations department) are legend, as are her giant sneezes. Other than the two too many joz’s, jozjozjoz is a perfectly normal, relatively sane individual who defies the odds, reaches for the stars, and carries moonbeams home in a jar. She’d rather be a fish… but not in her own dirty fishtank.
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