February 7, 2011
Liz published this at 8:52 am
Clever Only Works When Trust Is Around
It must be a hugely stressful and exciting opportunity to find your startup with a slot for a commercial at the Super Bowl. Who wouldn’t want to make a fabulous debut? Can you imagine the meetings that must have been to plan that Groupon ad? Bet it was fun exciting and filled with clever ideas … all meant to go for the win!
By now you’ve heard of or seen the unfortunate Groupon Super Bowl ad that came from the meetings I just described:
Given the human rights crisis in Tibet, it’s not hard to see the response wouldn’t be good. To say it offended people is less than what happened. From Twitter to China, from CNN to Forbes to their own hometown Chicago Tribune the reaction wasn’t good.
CNN International: Super Bowl ad featuring Tibet triggers angry reaction in China
Forbes: Groupon’s 2-For-1 Super Bowl Special: Offend Both China And Tibet Activists
Digital Trends: Groupon’s Tibet Super Bowl ad offends everyone
Deal Book: Did Groupon Cross the Line in Super Bowl Ad Debut?
Chicago Tribune: Groupon Tibet Super Bowl TV ad discounts taste, sensitivity
Clever isn’t clever when it offends.
The problem with clever ideas is that they are a social thing. Clever only works where trust already exists. Clever is risky because it gets us looking at ourselves not the people we’re talking to. Clever backfires completely in a venue or a community where people don’t know us yet. Groupon found out what happens when we try clever without a firm foundation of trust in the mix.
Now, Groupon has problem. What would you do?
Reframing the Problem
The way you frame a problem is what keeps it a problem. This problem can so easily be a huge opportunity. Groupon has been in the social business world long enough to see the outstanding examples of companies who tried to apologize without apologizing and those who have owned their mistakes and won back the trust of the their core fan group instantly.
Those that worked were those that resonated started from a place of trust and rebuilding trust relationships. If you find yourself where Groupon is, start with these two tenets of connecting in honesty.
- Step away from the the clever and open up. Send out an actual human being to talk with your customers. They’re your heroes.
- Lead with trust. Trust the human being you send, trust your customers, and give people every reason to trust you. Trust is the currency of relationships.
With that mindset, a clear plan of action toward apologizing early and often is the only way to answer the hugely negative response to their ads.
The Action Plan
What would I advise the Groupon team to do? Realize that the relationships they’ve built have been based on price, not loyalty. Understand that the breach was something like
“If you could make fun of something as serious as that, would also make fun of anything, everything, that’s important to me?”
Here’s an action plan to begin a new kind of relationship and to rebuild what’s been lost by the ad.
- Read enough to understand why people responded as they did to the ad. Read long enough and deep enough to see the disconnect. A wise, open-mind doesn’t have to read long to see what went wrong.
- Say thank you to folks who raised the complaints.
- Admit the mistake and apologize. A true apology includes …
- a statement of regret …
- ownership of the act and responsibility for the outcome …
I behaved badly … It was my fault this happened.
- acknowledgment of hurt or damage …
It made you feel small … It broke your trust … It lost you business.
- a promise for better behavior in the future …
It won’t happen again.
- a request or statement of hope for forgiveness or renewed trust …
I hope you can believe in me.
- Then go back and read everything — every tweet, post, conversation about it. Talk to everyone you can about it. Become an expert on knowing every blog and blogger, every tweet and tweeter. Respond with appropriate personal apologies to as many as you can.
- Ask for help. Have a Groupon reverse offer. Offer to pay $500 budget to the first 100 customers who want to make a video version of a new ad. Make the Groupon offer that they get paid. Participate with time. Don’t just throw money at them.
- Add a page to the Save the Money site to feature the videos they make and allow the audience to cast votes on for the video they think would have made the best Super Bowl Ad for Tibet that might have been. (Limit votes to 1 per email address.)
- Put the top 10 winners on the Groupon site and donate $1000 to the Tibet fund in the name of each winner – a total of $10,000.
Have a beginner’s mind. Listen. Listen. Listen. Say thank you again.
Then don’t tell folks you’ve changed. Show them.
How to Recover
Groupon has a site for donating to the Tibet Fund. Finding out about it now, is too little too late. The ad might have led with that, but it didn’t. Here’s how Groupon might recover by using that site and enlisting from the folks who still want to believe in them.
A company admits the error and shows they mean it with everyone watching could make difference in a huge way. Here’s a chance to turn critics into heroes and to use the momentum to make something truly good happen.
Groupon has a huge opportunity to bring visibility and real action to the crisis in Tibet.
This could be a win for the world, if Groupon wants to make it that.
Got more ideas for how Groupon might recover from this?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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