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Creative Copywriting Tips from Groupon

March 13, 2011

My favorite SXSW session so far has been the Corporate Creativity conversation by Aaron Wish, editor in chief at Groupon. He had lots of great tips to share about the kind of hiring, investment, and commitment required for great content creation and copywriting; the main takeaway is that creative copywriting requires rare skill, as well as corporate dedication.

Wish started the presentation by describing an alternate-reality game that Groupon built as part-teambuilding-exercise, part-recruitment-tool. It was a bizarre hunt for…never mind, I won’t even try to retell it. But one of the practical outcomes was discovering which job candidates would fit in with Groupon’s culture and be able to contribute to it.

“It was great–we didn’t have to talk about their work history or call their references,” he said.

Wish then went through some of the filters Groupon uses to evaluate ideas. For instance, here’s what they hate in viral marketing:

  • Bland humor–if the joke could be on Jay Leno, it’s tired and should be avoided
  • Hoax marketing–as an example, the fake Sony PSP fan blog which tried to connect with the audiene through poor use of hiphop slang. That represents naive demographic targeting, at best
  • Dignity-robbing or invasive marketing–for instance, paying $10K for people to tattoo the GP logo on their foreheads).
  • Crass, lowbrow humor–example, soccer game streakers with logos painted on them

Here’s how Groupon approaches subversive marketing:

They provided a scholarship for a “Groupon baby” (a baby from a couple that met on a Groupon date) because “it’s in the brand’s best interest for Groupon babies to be smart”. It’s funny, and it subtly explains one of the uses of the service–for finding dates to go with the activities that Groupon promotes.

Everyone probably knows about the explosion of Groupon clones. Groupon built a parody of these called Nopuorg, and used it to answer journalist questions about which competitors they’re nervous about.

Marketing messaging is so often all about the copy. The mildest cliche or hard-to-read/inaccessible copy can make for an inaccessible brand. Marketers don’t do a good enough job of defending people’s time–Inefficient wordy copy wastes time; failing-at-funny really wastes people’s time.

Copywriting principles for Groupon Daily Deals:

  • Zero adspeak, fact-based copy, no aggressive CTAs
  • Treat writing like an art
  • Surprise!

An example of lazy copywriting that we all recognize: “You’ve been working hard all week, you deserve a massage.”

Wish’s response: If I read that, I’m like “fuck you, you don’t know me!”

There are risks to weird creative ideas and copy that pushes boundaries, but the greater risk is not being noticed. Responding to the infamous Super Bowl ad, Wish said “We went too far, and the creative execution was off. If it goes too far, we learn from that and don’t make the same mistake again. We make new mistakes.”

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