Reflective Writing: Groupon Advertisement [Ben Morton]

What ideas underlie the text you are analyzing? What types of associations is it trying to make? How is the text representing certain groups of people in particular ways? What kind of effect might this have? How does your text exemplify one of the descriptions of ideology explored in the readings?

 

Earlier this year, Groupon aired an extremely controversial commercial that used the tragic oppression in Tibet to highlight their new line of coupons. At first, the advertisement appears as a thoughtful approach to humanitarian aid, until it tactlessly shifts to a white man (Timothy Hutton) describing the importance of buying cheap fish curry. This particular artifact connects to John Storey’s Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, as it clearly identifies the dominant ideologies within American culture. For the purpose of this exercise, there will be emphasis on the underlying messages within this commercial, as well as the negative impact it has towards different social issues.

In addition to supporting consumerism, this particular advertisement establishes that it values the individual over the collective good. It reinforces the belief that saving money for personal exhibition is more important than contributing to causes. Moreover, the advertisement encourages its audience to neglect social issues—such as the oppression in Tibet—by making smart purchases. This type of selfishness and ignorance places a huge hindrance on social progress, and ultimately blinds people of the real complexity of the world. Such behaviors as these strongly connect to John Storey’s analysis of capitalist ideology, in which power and money distinguish the dominant citizens from the subordinated—or the wealthy from the poor. Within this context, the powerful individual is a Caucasian diner who is about to eat discounted curry, while the subordinated Tibetan waiter is relegated to serving him his meal.

After viewing this commercial, I contacted Groupon to better my understanding of their approach. Surprisingly enough, a representative was quick to respond with a thorough explanation regarding the highly controversial ad. He clarified that Groupon was attempting to bring awareness to both social issues and newly available coupons. And while their ad failed to provide a link, Groupon’s homepage includes a charity site that many customers have frequented since its arrival. Groupon was apparently surprised at people’s critical reaction to the “illusion of mockery,” considering that most citizens aren’t very passionate towards the actual social issues themselves. Although Groupon’s intentions were good and honest, they took a questionably approach that resulted in mixed responses.

On a surface level, this commercial is incredibly offensive and glaringly supportive of the status quo. Tibetan citizens are practically ridiculed, while American consumers are placed on a pedestal. Additionally, the advertisement casts a shadow on human suffering in order to highlight the importance of saving money. In turn, this would normally produce a narrow-minded audience that is overly fixated on making purchases. However, I firmly believe that people’s reaction to Groupon’s commercial counters this expectation. Moreover, Groupon showed that their artifact had deeper meaning and truly helped a legitimate cause. In many cases, television feeds people a slew of forced ideologies that individuals immediately fall prey to. This circumstance proves differently, as people showed strong resistance to a seemingly shallow, mainstream message. After all, the commercial was removed from the air only 12 hours after its initiation.

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