The Super Bowl Flop

It’s been about a week since the deluge of Super Bowl ad reviews began. There have been countless perspectives, concerns, analyses, opinions, and polls (the YouTube poll ends tonight!) but they all seem to be operating on the same basic assumption: the Super Bowl ads are the best that every corporation and creative firm has to offer.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty counter-intuitive.

Consider the Groupon problem: Groupon took a few issues, including the rain forest and the political situation in Tibet, made jokes about them, and it didn’t work out. A lot of people were offended, and some people thought it was funny.

Did you think the ads were funny or offensive? Should Groupon care? It’s not that your opinion doesn’t matter, but… it might not. It depends on whether or not you would actually buy a Groupon. If you were sitting in your living room watching the super bowl last weekend, statistically, you are probably not the person Groupon is looking for.

First of all, Groupon only offers deals in cities. Which means that of all the “average Americans” watching the super bowl (assuming Super Bowl viewers match average US demographics, which we know they don’t exactly, but it’s pretty close), there is a one in five chance you couldn’t buy a Groupon even if you wanted to. Second, and even more baffling, is the fact that Groupon’s business model depends on very specific information about their customers, which they make public to anyone interested.

68% of subscribers are 18-34 years old. 99% have some education beyond high school, and 80% have either a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Almost 30% make over $100,000 per year. Here’s the kicker: 77% of people who subscribe to Groupon are women. Does this sound like the same group of people who are watching the Super Bowl?

Probably the bigger question here is not whether or not Groupon’s ads were offensive, but why they were advertising during the Super Bowl in the first place.

Groupon is just one example. Overall, the ads were boring and weird. Ad Age’s Rance Crain says it’s because the messages was over-complicated and unclear.  While that is certainly true for many of the ads, it may not tell the whole story. The development of the internet, cable television, smartphones, and countless other new technologies over the past 10 years have made media users very accustomed to seeing advertising content that is specific to their interests. There is no possible way that Super Bowl ads, on the whole, can compare to consumers’ typical advertising experience. Many people probably found those ads to be very, very boring because they were very, very irrelevant.

There is so much information available to marketers today that can help companies best spend advertising dollars. While there are a few consumer industries that legitimately market to almost everyone in the US, the vast majority focus on reaching specific segments of the population.

Groupon had a really great thing going. Then they made a Super Bowl ad. They were in the right kinds of news for a possible $6 billion buyout, but now they’re in all the news for offensive advertising.

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