Point: The Anatomy Of A Groupon Ad

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Groupon managed to rankle most of Tibet and mystify just about everyone else with its 30-second, $3 million dollar ad. Word comes today that the CEO Andrew Mason is pulling the ads. But why would anyone relate the plight of the Tibetan people to a half-priced curry dish in the first place? Were they after shock value?

The answer is actually much simpler and less nefarious. Groupon was applying the same editorial standards it uses in its “Daily Deals” all over the country. Its commercial was attempting to convey the same humor to a broader audience.

Not buying it? Let’s examine the evidence.

As a Groupon subscriber, I get plenty of Daily Deals delivered to my inbox. Each shares a common, absurdist attempt at humor in the opening.

Exhibit A from just this week:

“Cleaning a dirty kitchen without touching it necessitates stealing a magician’s toothbrush or teaching a swarm of fruit flies to hold a soapy sponge. Borrow someone else’s arms instead with today’s Groupon from EcoMaids Austin.”

See, that’s how it works. The email starts off with a joke that has little to do with the deal itself. In fact, it’s a pretty indirect path from the opening to the punch line. This type of humor is not the result of a solitary writer riffing, but baked into the company’s editorial standards.

Believe it or not, Groupon emails actually go through a pretty long chain of reviews, based on the job descriptions currently listed on the company’s website. There are writers, editors, site editors, factcheckers, researchers, copyeditors and quality assurance folks. Let’s examine a staff writer job description, shall we?

According to Groupon’s posting, each deal aims “for vivid description rooted in complete transparency and embellished with well-crafted absurdities.” Style essentials include focusing on “a great experience, not a great deal”, “absurd, unexpected imagery that reacts to actual details”, avoiding humor that “relies on pop culture, topical, or celebrity references” or “that draws attention to the joke”.

In other words, Groupon ads are like that kid in high school who was always trying to be funny by saying something slightly off.

Exhibit B: I live in Austin, Texas and so understandably many of the Daily Deals I receive are for Tex-Mex. Check out the meandering openings to each of these ads.

“Texan witches often cursed their enemies with the Tex-Mex Hex—causing them to weep ranchero sauce, sprout burritos on their arms, and turn everything they touch into salsa.”

And:

“There are many activities that should not be performed on an empty stomach, including swimming, surgery, and swimming 30 minutes after having your appendix removed.”

And:

“Now that spinach has been deemed a performance-enhancing vegetable, Popeye’s future shortstop career hinges on his transition to ranchero sauce.”

Well, at least they got ranchero sauce in there twice.

These are all ads for essentially the same thing. And each is similar to the other only in that they are seemingly unrelated to the product being sold. My point? Groupon’s Super Bowl strategy was derivative of its email marketing.

According to Mason, “We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through.” Exactly. I get one of these absurd, awkward jokes delivered to my inbox every day. No offense taken until it landed on TV.

Stay tuned. A rebuttal from Joe Chernov is coming up. In the meantime, tell me what you think. Did the joke fall flat or do you think Groupon meant to be offensive?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jesse Noyes
Jesse came to Eloqua from the newsroom trenches. As Managing Editor, it's his job to find the hot topics and compelling stories throughout the marketing world. He started his career at the Boston Herald and the Boston Business Journal before moving west of his native New England. When he's not sifting through data or conducting interviews, you can find him cycling around sunny Austin, TX.

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