Monday, February 7, 2011

Tibet or Not Tibet

Every year there always seems to be at least one "controversial" commercial during the Super Bowl. Usually it's about sex or innuendo (though certainly not always). Very rarely is it about politics. This year, of course, was the exception.

In this case, the commercial is for mass coupon company Groupon, and it's about a deal for a Chicago-based Tibetan restaurant.

People are upset that a company would make light of a tragedy--the repression of the Tibetan people--and then use that to sell stuff.

Personally, I think the ad is brilliant, and for a few apparent and not-so apparent reasons:
1) First off, I think the sarcasm is fairly evident. Although it's done in a humorous and deliberately dismissive manner, the sentiment is less "better grab on to this while you still can!" and more "Come see why this is a culture worth preserving."
2) If nothing else, it exposed individuals--football fans who are unlikely to know much about it--to Tibet and its plight.
3) Funds are going to the Tibetan fund, which helps preserve Tibetan culture. (Or so it seems. It's referenced in a few news articles, but I haven't gotten confirmation. It seems plausible so I'll go with it.)

(As an aside, at least they didn't go for the obvious joke.)

Of course, when it is all said and done, Groupon is still shilling a product. I suppose people are upset because they are tying moving goods and a serious crisis together, and it was done in a seemingly tasteless way. But--and this is the important part--it encourages people, via both the commercial and the actual deal itself, to sample and engage in Tibetan culture, something I guarantee few people would have done without the commercial. Granted, it's difficult to cram all of this into a 30-second spot, and maybe they were foolish to try. Perhaps it was insensitive--but I don't think that insensitivity negates the good, and it may just be that vaugue insensitivity is what garners attention in the first place.

If this is something that gets people interested in a culture, helps out a local business that caters to that culture, and makes everyone else a little bit more knowledgable, I can't see how it can't be a positive.

As an added benefit, it pisses of the Chinese government. So there is that.

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