Today is Wednesday, so I bring you this week's trio of noteworthy apps. But this first blurb is less about an app than the controversy surrounding it.
I speak of the latest entry in the "there is no such thing as bad publicity" sweepstakes, the three Groupon Super Bowl ads. In each ad, a celebrity solemnly warns us about a crisis (Timothy Hutton for the crisis in Tibet, Cuba Gooding Jr. to save the whales, Elizabeth Hurley for Amazon rain forest deforestation), then grins mischievously and segues into a tacky pitch about how Groupon can get you discounts on items faintly related to that warning (Hutton on tasty Tibetan food, Gooding on whale watching trips, Hurley on more, um, personal deforestation).
Directed by iconic ironic actor/director Christopher Guest, the intent of the ads was to both highlight a worthy worry and sell the site/app – Groupon, which serves up more than 650 daily discount deals on a wide range of objects, services and activities in more than 500 markets around the world. Yesterday, for instance, Groupon listed 16 deals in the New York City vicinity on Italian food, a months worth of Pilates classes, walking tours and theater tickets.
The Super Bowl ads came off as schizophrenically tacky and borderline offensive – feel sad about this horrible thing that's happening, but, hey, who cares, la Dee da, here's a cheaper way to copiously consume while the world crashes down around us.
But that's not a bad thing. As a result of the controversy, the ads – and the site and its service and its mobile app – are getting a huge amount of publicity. While Groupon founder Andrew Mason scrambled to explain (not apologize – good for you) the ads, the free iPhone Groupon app (there's also free Groupon apps for Android and BlackBerry) was the third most popular in the iTunes App Store. So the ad did its job – it ignited curiosity and got people to download the app. Mission accomplished – almost.
What Guest and the commercial's mad men writers left out, however, was the key data point behind the purpose of the ads – Groupon is organizing donations around these crises (Hutton/Tibet Fund, Gooding/Greenpeace and Hurley/Rainforest Action Network) through a tongue-in-cheek effort called "Save the Money" (Groupon postulating that money itself is a wasted natural resource), and will match any donation we make to these organizations up to $100,000. But perhaps incorporating this appeal into the ads would have made them mawkish, lowering their potential shock/irony/controversy value.
In other words, no matter how possibly offensive the ads may appeared to be, they accomplished that old kiddy taunt – Made you look! – possibly to your benefit and the benefit of the causes the ads tried to illuminate.
Oh, and there's a new Groupon ad coming featuring Sheryl Crow highlighting build On, which creates programs for U.S. urban schools and builds schools in developing countries around the world. Be ready to be offended all over again, so offended that you'll download the app and make a donation.
Warning: This blurb may appear to be sexist. I'm assuming guys will be buying their gals Valentine's Day gifts and/or taking them out for dinner. While I recognize this isn't quite the cliché it might once have been, it's just easier to write this as if Dwight Eisenhower were President than to stretch my syntax to be gender neutral. If you're doing the whole Sadie Hawkins thing, or are in a same-sex relationship, my apologies and feel free to read the gender references appropriate to your particular situation.
So, wondering what to get your honey (actually, that's kind of general neutral) for Valentine's Day instead of the usual and unimaginative roses and candy? Money is always nice, or, less tacky, a gift card. Instead of a physical gift card, though, since your honey likely has a purse full of gift cards, arrange the purchase through this free app, available for both iPhone and Android, a gift card organizer.
Once you create an account, you enter the barcode and/or account number into the app, and this "virtual" card can now be used to order online goods or used in a store – the cashier can scan the barcode on your phone's screen. (Suggestion: let us use the phone's camera to scan the gift card's barcode so we don't have to manually input that long string of tiny numbers, especially those of us who suffer from both dyslexic and presbyopia.)
You can also shop for gift cards from retailers such as JC Penney, American Apparel, Live Nation and, appropriate for this weekend, 1-800 Flowers, within the app, then send them to your honey's phone as long as she has SWAGG installed on her phone, which I'm sure you'll do for her as a surprise.
GrubHub (GrubHub)/SeamlessWeb (SeamlessWeb)
So, where will you and the object of your lust and/or love go to dinner? Instead of squeezing into an eatery crowded with similar rose-bearing couples this weekend or on Monday night, then avoiding boozed-up couples rushing to get back to a warm room to, um, complete the evening, why not just romantically order in?
I spent a good part of yesterday playing with each, trying to decide which to include here. I also engaged in some email correspondence with media relations people for each, trying to initiate a "They suck," "No, THEY suck" information exchange.
Failing to figure out or be convinced which was "better," I realized – they're both free. Why not write about both of them?
Because, GrubHub and SeamlessWeb do pretty much the same thing. Input an address and you get a list restaurants nearby that deliver. You tap on menu items to build an order.
These apps differ from the usual restaurant search apps such as UrbanSpoon, which simply finds nearby restaurants for you to go to.
Each delivery app has its strengths and weaknesses, mostly centered around how many restaurants are listed in different cities (GrubHub lists bistros in 13 cities, SeamlessWeb 27, although GrubHub claims it has more restaurants in each city and that SeamlessWeb lists a lot of restaurants that aren't really members of its delivery network. Nyah, nyah, nyah, so there).
While there is some city overlap, especially in restaurant delivery heaven New York (you don't deliver here you don't stay in business long) and other major cities, these are almost immaterial. I inputted my old address in Murray Hill (the East 30s in Manhattan), and each app listed some of the same restaurants, but mostly a different set of choices. (For instance, SeamlessWeb had my favorite deli in the city, Sarge's, while GrubHub didn't.)
So, download and use both to find the right romantic restaurant to order from.
I do have a suggestion for both apps: instead of making me input an address (both let you use your current location), let me link to an address in my address book. GrubHub at least let me store addresses, but I had to go back-and-forth between my address book and the app to input each by hand. Annoying and, in my mind, simple to solve.
Happy Valentine's Day!