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Groupon Thoroughly Botches China Expansion Plans

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In January, the Global Times, a newspaper produced by the People's Daily, China's official Communist Party organ, ran a story detailing the hurdles Groupon faced in its push to expand into China.

The article, titled, "Groupon's China Plan on Bumpy Road Despite Confidence," didn't paint a particularly bright future for the online coupon outfit that turned down a $6 billion buyout offer from Google in December.

Global Times had earlier reported that "group buying sites, including,,, and ... established an alliance to counter US group buying company and its domestic partner Tencent Inc."

Then, yesterday, Groupon ran a Super Bowl commercial starring Timothy Hutton that is likely to ruffle a feather or three among the government officials so important to any non-Chinese company attempting to do business in China.

“Mountainous Tibet - one of the most beautiful places in the world," begins actor Timothy Hutton. "The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.”

"Groupon's Tibet commercial was so appalling it made me cancel their daily email; it turned a vague dislike into enmity," the New Yorker's Tad Friend wrote on Twitter.

Evidently, Darfur gags are out of fashion this year. But regardless of whose feelings might be hurt by this gaffe, Groupon's biggest mistake may have been not registering, as Facebook did to head off impostors.

Reports Reuters correspondent George Chen:

"Chicago-based has opened a China representative office and hired a team to help it launch its China portal as soon as possible, according to people involved in the plan. However, even before getting the wheels properly in motion, it has encountered in an unexpected and uncomfortable hurdle — both and, its first and most obvious choices for a local web address, have already been snapped up by a copycat."

A Groupon copycat? How similar can it possibly be? Would any consumer worth his or her salt really be confused by some knockoff site that is obviously not Groupon?

Here's Groupon's logo:

And here's what copycat service is using:

Oh. can see where a bit of confusion might come into play. But not to fear, Groupon--China's intellectual property laws are some of the strictest in the world.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.