• Dean Turney

    Hi. I'm Dean Turney, a freelance copywriter based in London. Have a look at my work, or read a bit about me. Or if you’d like to discuss your project, please get in touch. Call +44(0)7754 537 428. Or send me your details here and I’ll get back to you.

  • Is Groupon’s copy driving its multi-billion dollar success?

    January 19, 2011

    According to Mashable, Groupon are preparing for an initial public offering that would value the deal-of-the-day website at $15–$20 billion. It was only last December when Google tried to buy Groupon for $6 billion.

    So how did this company, just over two years old, become so successful so fast?

    Well I don’t know. If I did I’d be a lot richer than I am. But all the hoopla about Groupon in business circles made me want to investigate. Especially when I noticed people talking about the company’s copywriting.

    I discovered that Groupon were first to market with their online group-buying concept. Being first always helps. Thanks to this, Groupon’s name has become synonymous with “group coupon” deals.

    But that can’t be enough, can it? Their business model is easy to replicate, and according to Forbes, there are now over 700 copycat sites with similar offerings.

    So, what has Groupon done to stand out from the crowd?

    A copy style that sets the brand apart

    Aside from offering deals which may occasionally be better than their competitors’, Groupon is trying to differentiate its brand with a distinctive style of copy. Put “Groupon copywriting” into Google and you’ll see people are talking about it—perhaps mostly other copywriters. You’ll also find that the style is polarizing opinion. Some people are lapping it up, while others find it annoying.

    What makes it different?

    Have a look at one of the emails which I asked Groupon to send me, below (click to enlarge it).

    On the surface there’s nothing particularly remarkable. You could criticise the copy by saying that it’s cold and lacking in personality. But it’s not likely to irritate you, and the copywriter has:

    • Described the deal simply
    • Stated the benefits without any waffle
    • Eschewed hyperbole and exclamation marks
    • Kept the email short and easy to read

    The writer also respects our intelligence by not constantly telling us to “Do this” or “Do that”. Clearly Groupon believe that if we like the unadulterated facts, we’ll click the View Now button to find out more.

    All good so far, but nothing that a rival deal site couldn’t do.

    Charming or cheesy?

    It’s when you click through to the landing page that the tone changes. You start with a full list of plain benefits, followed by a piece of body copy of about 375 words. The latter sales spiel is the real distinguishing feature of Groupon’s copy.

    Here’s how the text on my deal begins:

    “During a late night crisis, moonlight reflected off pearly whites can create a beaming beacon   to illuminate even the darkest of surroundings. With today’s Groupon, equip your smile with brightness that could one day save your life:”

    It continues in that vein.

     

    Enticing or off-putting?

    Here’s an opening paragraph from another deal, for a stay at a Scottish resort:

    “Stepping in chewing gum, finding the end of the Sellotape and walking behind a person with a wheeled luggage case are all some of the most annoying things a human can endure. Escape the world’s little struggles with today’s getaway Groupon: an overnight stay for two at the luxurious Crieff Hydro Resort…”

    Delightful or just plain dumb?

    Here’s one more example, for a hair salon deal:

    “Before top stylists started colouring hair with foils or mesh, men and women use to buy felt tip markers and begin the laborious task of colouring their strands. One. By. One. Save yourself from such DIY mishaps with today’s hair fixer-upper from BBeautiful Hairdressing.”

    The Groupon Academy for Writers

    Apparently Groupon place such importance on developing and maintaining their own brand copy style, they’ve set up an “academy” for training writers. Copywriters are taught to come up with new terms for tired old ones, all while being careful to avoid offending readers. So, for example, instead of repeatedly using the word “chiropractor”, they might say “backologist”. Or they might refer to the human body as “your soul sack”. Of course this light-heartedness all depends on the context.

    I guess Groupon hope you’ll be entertained, and look forward to reading about the next deal.

    “The Groupon Copywriting Guide”

    If you’d like to know more about Groupon’s copy style, Business Insider has a document they claim is the company’s leaked “Secret copywriting guide”, which you can read here. You never know, it might inspire you to create a $20 billion brand.

    What do you think?

    Obviously Groupon believe having their own style of copy is good for business. And this copy may well be propelling their company to new heights in North America. But I wonder what people here in the UK think of it. Is the Groupon style to your taste? Or do you find it corny and a turn-off? Share your views below.

    Afterword

    I don’t recommend copying Groupon’s copy style, but I do believe every brand needs its own distinctive voice. If you’d like to discuss your brand and copy with an experienced copywriter, contact me here.

     

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Bravenewmalden January 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    You’re right, copywriters are getting as frenzied as copywriters ever do about Groupon’s copy style. I think it’s quite sweet in small doses, and I also suspect it’s harder to write than it looks.

    My main fear is that clients will start demanding we writers ‘do a Groupon’, just as for the last few years they’ve been asking for us to do an ‘Innocent Smoothies’ job.

    Not me, of course. My clients have loyally kept with the ‘can you tone down the warmth and make it less interesting?’ mantra.

    Dean January 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Thanks Kevin. Your last comment made me smile.

    I’ve also noticed financial services and b2b clients asking for Economist-style headlines. Have you?

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