Brian Jacobson
Deep-Fried Romantic

the Coupon Wars

By - Feb 9th, 2011 04:00 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

There was a moment on Sunday during the Super Bowl’s commercials when many viewers likely exclaimed, “what the f@#$ was that?!”

Was it the commercial showing monkeys with poor parking skills, the one with the ‘test baby’, or the one with Joan Rivers?  While all had humorous shock value, none equaled a tongue-in-cheek moment that was plain unfunny. Groupon’s Super Bowl commercial featured Timothy Hutton talking about the plight of Tibet and concluded with the assumption that discounted meals made by exiles from beleaguered country will keep everyone happy.

It was meant to be a satire inspired by the company’s philanthropic origins, but no one got it. In a mere 30 seconds, the Chicago-based online discounter went from darling of the ‘net to scourge of the social media world. It was meant to be the start of an altruistic charity campaign…which was only obvious if you went online to see the commercial again. The broadcast version, including three other similar snarky ads, failed to mention this.

Funny thing is—their commercials were made at the last minute after fears that upstart rival Living Social was gaining on them. According to an article in Monday’s Business Insider, Groupon was feeling the pressure after Washington-based Living Social partnered with Amazon.com.  Then came word that LivingSocial was placing a surprise last-minute pre-Super Bowl ad. For the curious, this is the one where the roughneck man becomes a classy woman after a series of discounted lifestyle adventures propagated by the online discount broker. It was an equal WTF?! moment that went mostly unnoticed.

I joined the knee-jerk mini-protest Monday morning and unsubscribed from Groupon, which was agonizing, as that day’s deal was half-off sandwiches from Koppa’s Deli.

What all of this negative attention has done is draw back the curtain of the Coupon Wizard to reveal the empty gimmickry within. In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s how it works: A  Discount e-coupon site contracts with your favorite cake decorating company (or salon, or dental office, etc.) . They will offer (x) amount of service for a fraction of the normal price. If a set number of people agree to buy into the deal, it’s declared official. There are various limitations on the number one can purchase, and both deals and coupons themselves have expiration dates.

In essence, what companies like Groupon, LivingSocial, Google Offers, Woot, BuyWithMe, Mobideals, Yipit, (Milwaukee-based) Deals by Golly!, and dozens of other iterations of the “Deal a Day” phenom have done is cause everyone to collectively dump their annual Entertainment Books.

Despite the boasted “thousands of dollars” in savings, I never could get the hang of the Entertainment Coupon Book. For $20-$30, you could run all over southeastern Wisconsin eating discounted meals, racing go-karts in the Dells, or getting your dry cleaning done. My problem was remembering what was in the book, to leave it in my car, to have friends along to make it worthwhile, to use it only during the week, ad nauseum.

Daily deal sites allow for a remarkable amount of convenience, and unlike the highly random selection of goods and services offered in the book, these sites tend to narrow down deals based on your geographic location and interests. What’s more — all of this takes place under the auspices and safety of an Internet platform. Like Facebook, offers are presented in one place instead of the consumer remembering to check and re-check the official website for advertisements. In fact, social media makes the deal even more pervasive to the Internet user, running everywhere with tweets and posting bills of fare.

You barely have to move, and suddenly you’ve got a half-price dinner for two, store credit at your favorite clothing retailer or maybe even a $50 voucher for skydiving lessons. It gives the chance to try out a lifestyle without commitment of expense or energy.


0 thoughts on “Deep-Fried Romantic: the Coupon Wars”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Well done, Brian. — Tom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *