business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

George Orwell once said that “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” If he’d seen the Groupon ads during the Super Bowl, he might have added “opportunism.”

Groupon - which combines social networking with coupon sales - had three ads on the Super Bowl that used celebrity spokespeople (Tim Hutton, Elizabeth Hurley, Cuba Gooding Jr.) to start off promoting philanthropic causes, but then they would segue into a commercial. Hutton, for example, talked about the troubles facing Tibet, but then pitched the fish curry available at a Tibetan restaurant; Hurley said that she was concerned about deforestation, except the kind of deforestation that comes with a good Brazilian wax.

The Hutton commercial especially seemed offensive to people who see political oppression in Tibet as a major human rights issue, and most of the coverage of Groupon’s efforts focused on the negative, and words like “flippant,” “callous” and “insensitive” were tossed about like so many hand grenades aimed at the company.

During a Super Bowl that seemed designed to feature commercials that pushed the envelope on acceptability, Groupon seems to have ripped the envelope up and thrown it away. But there is a greater lesson here.

Words matter. Actions matter. How you say something, and when you say it, and what you do, can have an enormous impact on whether your message is received and your clear intent is seen. You have to know not just what you are saying, but who you are talking to, and what their mindset is.

The same could thing could be said about yesterday’s story concerning the Chick-fil-A fast food chain,which has come under fire from some gay rights groups for having contributed food to an anti-gay marriage group.

As can be seen in “Your Views” below, there was a lot of reaction to both the story and my commentary. Viewed in the context of the Groupon fiasco, Chick-fil-A’s actions look at lot better ... if for no other reason than the company puts its money and food where its mouth and heart are. It actually believed in something, as opposed to Groupon, which seemed to be cashing in with a kind of crass commercialism.

Words matter. Attitude matters. Actions matter. And it is critical to calculate both before you say or do anything.

It is not lost on me that I write this as someone who has, from time to time, opened his mouth and said the unnecessary thing, made the inappropriate joke. My advantage is that most MNB readers understand that I work without a net, and that my job is to say stuff that other people won’t say ... so most of you cut me some slack.

But most companies don’t have that wiggle room.

So keep it in mind: Word and actions matter.

And that’s our Eye-Opener for today.
KC's View: