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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Super Bowl ad featuring Tibet triggers angry reaction in China

February 11, 2011

By Jo Kent, CNN
February 7, 2011 7:32 a.m. EST

Commercials aired during the Super Bowl are some of the most expensive -
and most watched - in the U.S.
(Over 106 million Super Bowl viewers watched the New Orleans Saints'
victory over Indianapolis, in Super Bowl 2010 – (Source: Nielson Co.) )

The ad is by Groupon -- a U.S.-based company that helps group-buyers get
During the ad, actor Timothy Hutton appears to be served a meal at
Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago
He delivers the line "The Tibetan people are in trouble. Their culture
is in jeopardy"
Groupon has said China is a priority for the company

Beijing (CNN) -- The Super Bowl usually comes and goes without much
notice in China.

However, this year, America's famous sporting event took a different
turn when a television advertisement featuring Tibetans and a
Chicago-area Himalayan restaurant triggered angry comments from internet
users in China.

The ad by Groupon -- a U.S.-based company that helps online group-buyers
get discounts -- was to generate support for The Tibet Fund, an
organization that aims to preserve Tibetan culture.

During the ad, actor Timothy Hutton appears to be served a meal at
Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago. He delivers the line "The Tibetan
people are in trouble. Their culture is in jeopardy."

Then in a seemingly sarcastic tone, Hutton adds, "But they still whip up
an amazing fish curry!"

Hutton then talks about a 50% discount he and other Groupon users got at
a Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.

The joke fell flat with Chinese internet users, at a time when the
venture capital-backed Groupon is aggressively expanding its services
and staffing in mainland China.

Tibet has long been a source of consistent domestic and international
tension for China, which established control over the region in 1951.
The Dalai Lama went into exile in 1959 following an uprising against
communist leadership.

Tensions related to religious freedom, human rights, development and
political sovereignty have plagued the region periodically ever since.

"Just saw the ad, are they oblivious?" asked user Mofei on's
microblogging service Weibo.

"Groupon is doomed to failure now in China," wrote user Yageboo on
Sina's Weibo. "Groupon's lax approach to the Chinese market is not going
to work!" user cnbuff410 asked, "Groupon ... you play a 'free Tibet'
advertisement during the Super Bowl ... do you actually want to enter
the Chinese market?"

Vivek Kunwar, a co-owner of Himalayan Restaurant in the Chicago area,
saw the advertisement during a Super Bowl commercial break.

"When we saw it, it was an 'uh-oh' moment, even for me," Kunwar said in
a phone interview.

"There was nothing that we could do .. we were not even involved in the

However, not everyone was affected.

One online user posted, "Groupon is an American company with a conscience."

The restaurant first opened in 2003, and has enjoyed a strong community
customer base.

"When we were shown the script, it sounded pretty good. However, the way
the ad was made was not in good taste," Kunwar said.

"Our name was used but the way the ad was presented really wasn't done
very well. It could offend people definitely."

Phone calls and e-mails to Groupon headquarters and its Beijing office
went unanswered on Sunday evening. But the company posted a message on
its official Twitter account, saying "Like standing too close to a
rainbow, viewers' hearts are warmed" by the Super Bowl ad.

Kunwar said though the ad had a strong message, it's presentation was

"It came out the opposite of what they were hoping for," the co-owner said.

Kunwar said the advertisement was not filmed in their restaurant but on
a set.

"From our part, we hope people realize it was not us," Kunwar said.

"We participated because we liked the cause. (Groupon) should've
considered the sensitivity of the matter," Kunwar said Groupon has not
reached out to the Himalayan Restaurant since the commercial aired.

"Nobody has called me but I definitely do want to talk to their people
and ask them what they were thinking," he told CNN.

"It makes Groupon look bad, it makes us look bad and it was not the way
it should've been done."

Kunwar said he expects the three-restaurant chain will receive
complaints, and he is concerned about future business.

Tibetans and Chinese in their community may "be a little unhappy with
it," he said.

Beijing-based consumer expert Ray Ally said shock value is a part of

"Sometimes brands try to create impact by being a big risque or a bit
confrontational," Ally said. "Brands use this kind of shock to generate
awareness for their brand ... they think that maybe it would get people
talking about Groupon in a positive way."

Ally said some topics are best left untouched.

"They need to steer clear of politics, race and religion because it can
backfire," Ally told CNN. "And that's what happened here. This will
actually damage their brand in the US and more importantly it will
damage their brand in China."

Groupon has said China is a priority for the company.

"China is such an important market ... you'll likely see us there,"
Groupon president Rob Solomon recently told state-run China Daily.
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