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Actress Tiffany Haddish stars in new Groupon Super Bowl ad, signaling its return to daily deal roots

Seven years after its disastrous Super Bowl commercial debut, Groupon is returning to the big game with a new spokeswoman — actress Tiffany Haddish — and a renewed focus on its daily deals roots.

The Chicago-based company, once the face of the city’s tech startup scene, has recruited rising star Haddish, a hardcore Groupon user, to recast its image on the same national stage that nearly sunk it, booking an ad on the Super Bowl 52 telecast Feb. 4 on NBC.

With a massive viewing audience and a reported $5 million price tag for a 30-second spot, Groupon has a lot riding on the deal.

“This gives us an unparalleled stage — 110 million people — and it helps reset the Groupon narrative back in consumers’ minds and makes us relevant again,” said Jon Wild, Groupon's head of marketing for North America.

Launched in 2008, Groupon created its own e-commerce niche with heavily discounted daily deals on everything from manicures to meals, blasted out to subscribers via email. Groupon was still a high-flying startup when the first Super Bowl ad hit in February 2011, four months before the company filed an initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The irreverent spot — a faux public service announcement for the endangered Tibetan people that shifted to a deal on fish curry — landed with an epic thud, followed by a downward spiral that led to a rapid decline in valuation, the 2013 ouster of founder and inaugural CEO Andrew Mason, and a shift in the business model to challenge Amazon as an online retailer.

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Google tried to buy Groupon for $6 billion in 2010, but investors said no deal. By the spring of 2011, Groupon was valued at $25 billion. The market capitalization as of Tuesday was under $3 billion.

The company has downsized its ranks, which numbered more than 11,000 employees worldwide at its peak in 2012. Groupon had 6,600 employees at the end of the third quarter, including about 1,800 in Chicago, the company said.

While Groupon Goods has grown to provide the lion’s share of the company’s $3.1 billion in annual revenue, it has proved less profitable than the local third-party deals on which the company was established.

Groupon had a net loss of $183.3 million last year and is shifting its emphasis back toward the higher-margin local deals business.

“It’s definitely the right strategy,” said Aaron Turner, an analyst who covers Groupon for Wedbush Securities. “The local business actually is profitable. What’s been dragging on their profitability is a low-margin goods business.”

Turner said Groupon is ready to make a “big investment in customer acquisition” by returning to the Super Bowl, with a good product for consumers who visit the site.

The new ad campaign, which will launch with the Super Bowl but run throughout the year, features a longtime customer and “power user” in Haddish, whose Groupon daily deals credentials came to light in July during an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Haddish told a story about “getting high” and taking Hollywood power couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a Cajun swamp boat tour she purchased on Groupon to “see alligators” while in Louisiana filming the movie “Girls Trip.” The seven-minute clip went viral on YouTube, garnering nearly 3 million views to date and catching the attention of Groupon marketing executives.

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“We didn’t find her; she found us,” Wild said. “The thing that attracted us was the authenticity. You can pay people to be your spokesperson, but they may not genuinely have an interest in your product. Tiffany is a bona fide Groupon advocate — she’s in the top 1 percent of our customers; she’s saved thousands — and she knows more about our product than a lot of Groupon employees. She’s that invested in the experience.”

Created by O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul, a 5-year-old ad agency based in Chicago’s West Loop, the Haddish commercial will once again shoot for humor, but it will stay far away from Tibet and the “misguided” approach of Groupon’s 2011 Super Bowl ad, Wild said.

“Tiffany is incredibly funny,” he said. “There’s a twist that we think is really funny, really relevant to the Super Bowl, that we think will help garner the attention and the positive feedback that we expect.”

The Super Bowl ad will be released online in advance of the big game, Wild said.

Since 2011, Groupon has stuck mostly to digital advertising, avoiding TV and other traditional media as it sought to refine its business model. The company ventured back onto the small screen in May 2016 to begin promoting its local deals business.

Wild said it was the “right time” to return to the big stage, a reflection of a company that has worked “incredibly hard” at improving the customer experience, products and mobile platforms since flaming out in its inaugural Super Bowl appearance in 2011.

“We feel that as a business we’ve matured a lot since those days,” he said. “We’ve also defined our proposition better for consumers, and I think the experience is better.”

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @RobertChannick

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