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Xoom, Groupon and ... Bieber? The Web's Super ad attack

Doug Gross
The ad for Motorola's Xoom tablet computer was a not-so-subtle jab at Apple, which made waves with a Mac ad in 1984.
The ad for Motorola's Xoom tablet computer was a not-so-subtle jab at Apple, which made waves with a Mac ad in 1984.
  • Groupon, Bieber and an Apple attack top tech-related Super Bowl ads
  • Sony's Xoom tablet computer spoofed a 1984 Apple ad to take on the iPad
  • Groupon's take on Tibet didn't go over well with many viewers
  • Justin Bieber tells millions of followers that Best Buy ad was a good laugh

(CNN) -- Groupon made fun of Tibet. Motorola made fun of Apple.

And Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber made fun of 4G (and 5G ... and 6G ...).

The Web was well represented during Sunday's flood of Super Bowl advertising excess (aka #brandbowl), with some of the biggest names in consumer technology and social networking taking their turns alongside Coke's killer dragons and Volkswagen's baby Darth Vader.

In the tech-o-sphere (motto: If you didn't live-tweet it, did it really happen?), one of the Super Bowl ads getting the most love was the none-too-subtle jab Motorola took at Apple while promoting its upcoming Xoom tablet computer.

In the ad, our geeky hero uses his Xoom (powered by Google's Android system) to read George Orwell's "1984." That, along with the legions of brainwashed automatons surrounding him, amounts to a direct allusion to Apple's own "1984" Super Bowl spot from, er, 1984.

That time, the Mac was going to free computer users from their Orwellian rut. This time? The drones are wearing white earbuds. Presumably, they also use iPads.

"Apple has '1984' imagery used against it," blogger Scott Garner posted to Twitter on Sunday night. "Yes, campers, that *is* irony."

Despite what must be severe hatred from Apple fans, the spot seemed to do well with viewers. Sixty-five percent of respondents on Hulu's Adzone 2011 said they liked the ad.

Another Apple-related ad, this time for Verizon's forthcoming iPhone 4, took a not-so-subtle shot at AT&T's wireless network, which has been criticized for dropped calls and weak signal strength. The spot brought back the bespectacled Verizon Can-You-Hear-Me-Now? guy, who answers a call on his new Verizon iPhone and says with a smirk, "Yes, I can hear you NOW."

AT&T responded with an ad that showed a harried man talking to his wife on his iPhone while using the phone to book a last-minute dinner reservation for their anniversary. The ad emphasizes the AT&T iPhone's multi-tasking features while taking a jab at Verizon's network, which won't handle Web surfing while a voice call is in progress.

Speaking of smartphones, there was some online chatter Monday about an ad featuring Osbourne and Justin Bieber. The Prince of Darkness and Twitter's tween pop overlord teamed up in an unlikely pairing for Best Buy.

"How many bloody Gs are there?" Ozzy asks when the 4G phone he's hawking is ripped from his hand and replaced with a mythical 5G machine.

(Hey, Ozzy, fair question. If only somebody had a good answer for it).

He's replaced by the fresh-faced Bieber, who promotes "Bieber 6G fever" before later, dressed as an old man, snarling that the kid in the commercial "looks like a girl."

"all im gonna say is if you can #laughatyourself life is more fun," Bieber tweeted to his more than 7 million followers after the commercial aired.

That one, meant to show how quickly technology at the gadget retailer changes, had 73 percent positive feedback on Hulu, putting it in the Top 20.

If only the much-hyped ad buy from online coupon site Groupon had fared so well.

Groupon's Tibet ad was meant to be self-mocking, but many didn't see it that way.
Groupon's Tibet ad was meant to be self-mocking, but many didn't see it that way.

People familiar with the service probably recognize the irreverent style the Groupon staff uses in the writeups of its daily offerings. But, during the Super Bowl, that translated into a set of ads making light of some of the world's biggest problems.

In the most high-profile, actor Timothy Hutton bemoans the human-rights situation in Tibet before quipping, "But they still whip up an amazing fish curry!"

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The light-hearted take didn't sit well with lots of viewers.

"Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them," marketing pro and blogger Rohit Bhargava said on Twitter.

In a post later on his blog, Bhargava said the attempt at humor just didn't translate well from the computer screen to the TV screen.

"Without the context of the thinking behind the ad, their 30 second spot in isolation came off as offensive, amateurish and insensitive," he wrote. "These are not qualities which represent Groupon at all, yet the ad has gone virally wrong, which is a reminder that sometimes the same (creativity) developed as part of an online campaign can't simply be translated to another environment and retain its meaning."

On Groupon's blog, founder Andrew Mason explains the thinking behind the spots.

"Since we grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site ( and ended up selling coupons, we loved the idea of poking fun at ourselves by talking about discounts as a noble cause," he wrote of the ads, which are directed by mockumentary vet Christopher Guest, of "Spinal Tap," "Best In Show" and "Waiting for Guffman" fame.

It's worth noting that links to the ads on Groupon's site also provide links to make real donations to the causes that are spoofed (donations which Groupon will match up to $100,000).

But, by noon Monday, only 36 percent of the folks on Hulu said they liked the effort.

Other tech ads of note:

• The Daily, Fox owner Rupert Murdoch's iPad newspaper, gets an ad (on Fox).

• The Android robot gets thumbs attached, via back-alley surgery, so he can play video games on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.

• GoDaddy tries to convince us we all need to buy ".co" Web addresses with a scantily clad Joan Rivers.

• The Chevy Cruze reads us Facebook status updates while we drive.

CNN's Brandon Griggs contributed to this story.


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