Dumb, dumber, dumbest. Of all the US Internet companies that have been trying to enter China it looks like Groupon is making the dumbest mistake, and that even before it officially launches here.
Over the past weeks I have followed Groupon trying to set up its business in China. Not only from the press, but also from friends that interviewed there for one of the 1000 jobs that they plan to fill over the next couple of weeks, and of course from things I heard from other Groupon clones. I actually gave them a decent chance because of their plan to partner with Tencent and their commitment to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the Chinese market. The fact that the biggest Chinese clones are working together to compete against Groupon could be a potential problem, but one that can be solved with the amount of money Groupon has available.
But now they dug a big hole for themselves to fall into: how stupid can you be to air a pro-Tibet commercial during the Superbowl to promote your company? Not only does it upset a lot of their US customers, but it may get Groupon China in trouble as well. Tibet is one of the most sensitive issues in China and whatever you think about it, you should not touch it as a foreign company if you want to run a business here. Given the size of Groupon’s investment the company is surely on the government’s radar and they will see this ad as well. And what would Tencent do? Would they risk working with a partner that is making beginners mistakes even before any contracts are signed? To be continued, I am sure.