Groupon's Fumble Gives Causes Chance to Score Big

Enough people have registered their opinion to confirm this deal-breaker for everyone: Groupon's Superbowl ads Sunday night were ill-conceived and offensive. Goodwill earned from this promotion: 0%.

As of this printing, Groupon should have apologized (they haven't), pulled the ads (saw one last night), fired their agency (standing shoulder to shoulder) and donated a boatload of money to the causes they offended (Umm...nope).

But while the ads may have been a disaster for Groupon, they highlight four important lessons for causes and the businesses that work with them.

Holy, Batman! This cause marketing stuff really works! The outrage against Groupon was immediate, loud and passionate. As Willy Wonka said, "Strike that. Reverse it." Now imagine if Groupon had produced a great cause marketing ad and the raves it would have earned from viewers. Cause marketing is a powerful, meaningful strategy that enhances a company's favorability--when it's done well. When it's not, it has an equally potent but negative impact.

Group buying sites can work for causes. There was a legitimate giving component to Groupon's Superbowl spots but it wasn't mentioned in the ads (Groupon offered to match donations to the causes they dissed). Also left out was that Groupon and other group buying sites can be used to help causes. Groupon and Living Social have worked with DonorsChoose.org to raise over $250,000. A recent post in Mashable reviewed seven group buying sites using daily deals to give back. And just this week I did a deeper dive on GoodTwo.com, a daily deal platform that lets causes and individual fundraisers combine commerce with contacts to raise cash.

Humor has a place in cause marketing. Tom Watson pointed this out in his wonderful post on the Groupon mess, and even the founder of Groupon has assured people that his company was just making fun of itself. The key is appropriate, non exploitative, positive and disruptive humor that flies in the face of the melodramatic pandering we see in most cause marketing. Some causes are trying to use humor well, while thers are reminding causes to laugh at themselves every now and then. Hopefully we'll all get the message: humor for good is good.

The reason Groupon will survive is what you need to thrive in cause marketing. Groupon has a brand with the potential to join ranks with some of the best brands in the world (Starbucks, Mercedes, Nike, Apple, etc.). A strong brand is your most important asset in cause marketing. For cause or company, it's like a magnet that draws people, money and influence closer, and, in difficult times, repels critics and controversy.

Take a top cause brand like Komen for the Cure that wields one of the strongest magnets in the cause world. They attract donors, celebrities and advocates in hoards who contribute marketing muscle and hundreds of millions to their fight. But last year when Komen got caught in the chicken coop with Kentucky Fried Chicken suddenly nothing stuck, and, despite waves of criticism, Komen weathered the storm well. Groupon and Komen demonstrate the power of brand and why we all need a powerful one.

And Groupon certainly has enough brand power to earn a pass on this Superbowl fumble. The rest of us shouldn't spend a moment longer dissecting the replay. You need to get busy harnessing the power of cause marketing, the value of group buying sites and the disruptiveness of humor while building a brand that can play offense and defense.

Your goal should be to join Groupon one day in the big game of philanthropy, business and marketing. But unlike them, you'll be winner.