Groupon Chief Defends Marketing Approach

Groupon Inc., the largest provider of online daily coupons, will continue to dream up marketing campaigns based on "subversive" ideas to add users and reach new markets, said Aaron With, the company's editor-in-chief.

"Groupon's voice is all about surprise and subverting the expectation of how customers expect to be communicated to by a company," With said at a technology conference in Austin.

Television viewers criticized a Groupon commercial that aired during the Super Bowl last month, saying it made light of repression in Tibet. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mason later apologized for the ad and had it pulled from the air. Groupon is eager to attract and keep users as it considers whether to hold an initial public offering this year and as rivals such as LivingSocial step up competition.

Groupon sends daily deals to 50 million subscribers. It offers discounts of as much as 90 percent at businesses such as restaurants, nail salons and clothing stores. It then keeps a portion of the revenue.

With called the Super Bowl commercial a "fiasco" that was the result of the company taking a calculated risk. "With the Super Bowl we alienated too many people and our execution was off," he said. "It's not the first time we had to apologize and we'll probably have to apologize again."

The executive also took jabs at marketers who rely on cliché or generic selling points, at one point criticizing a line of copy from competing deal site LivingSocial.

'Endlessly Barraged'

"Customers are endlessly barraged with boring, creatively bankrupt marketing messaging that insults their intelligence," With said. "Smart consumers have learned to shut that out and basically ignore it."

Maire Griffin, a spokeswoman for LivingSocial, declined to comment on With's remarks.

Mason, founder of Groupon, is known around the company's Chicago headquarters as a serial prankster, dedicating office space to a fictitious character, hiring a performance artist to walk around the headquarters in a tutu and dreaming up a holiday called Grouponicus whose celebrants are barred from owning dogs.

"He's a very funny, wry guy who doesn't take himself too seriously and he's been able to infuse that into the brand," said Matt Moog, a Chicago-based entrepreneur, said in December.

Mason and other executives at the company have been in talks with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley about pursuing an IPO, a person familiar with the matter said in January.

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