Groupon Passes the Buck: Two Reputations at Risk

Crispin Porter + Bogusky has created some of the most memorable ad campaigns of the last decade – among them, the American Legacy Foundation’s anti-smoking campaign, the Burger King “King” ads, and Microsoft’s “I am a PC” commercials that took a swing back at Apple. The agency is highly respected for its creativity and willingness to take risks – they were even named “agency of the decade” by Advertising Age.

CP+B is also responsible for the recent Super Bowl “Tibet” ad for Groupon.

So what happens when a mass media catastrophe is blamed on the client, who then passes the buck to their advertising agency, who in this case happens to be CP+B? At this point, we’re all familiar with the controversy around Groupon’s Super Bowl “Tibet” ad. Bold? Yes. Funny? Depends on who you ask. Insensitive? Definitely. Although the response to the ad has been mixed, the general consensus is that it was a huge mistake.

When a strong brand like Groupon comes under fire, how do they handle the crisis? In this case, they handle it by blaming their advertising agency. So who is really to blame?

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason started off defending CP+B and their legacy of edgy, controversial advertising. However, in a recent interview with Bloomber BusinessWeek, Mason says that he put too much trust in the agency, which mishandled his company’s brand. But does that even make sense?

The relationship between client and agency is always tricky, and there is certainly a lot of trust involved. But in this case, Groupon executives had to have given the go-ahead for the commercial so they deserve at least as much, if not more, of the blame for it. And frankly, passing the buck just makes you look worse – because, as a CEO, if you don’t have control over your brand, then who does?

At the close of this controversy, both brands are looking a bit worse for the wear. CP+B has even lost their contract with Burger King, or at least it wasn’t renewed. This is a lesson in reputation and crisis management. First of all, apologize off the bat. Second of all, don’t point fingers and try to play the blame game. And finally, the trust element of the client-agency relationship goes both ways – so don’t throw your agency under the bus.

And that’s all, folks!

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