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Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 at 8:23 am

Is Your Copy Hurting You?

By Whitney Wilding
February 18th, 2011

Today’s post was inspired by Jared Spool’s article, “The Public Groupon Voice Guide,” which provides a handy link to Groupon’s guide for writing snarky copy. Anyone who has visited before already will be familiar with their writing style. For those of you who haven’t heard of Groupon, it is a site that offers discounts for local businesses in your area. A new deal is up for grabs each day, and you typically have til midnight of that same day to purchase it. One of Groupon’s attention-grabbing techniques is to introduce the daily deal with a sprinkling of sarcastic humor rooted in

  • “sweeping, dramatic nonsense,”
  • “fake proverbs and adages,”
  • “illogical comparisons and lists,”

These techniques result in copy that sounds like this:

Rural Vespa accidents are increasing in the Italian countryside, owing to the huge increase in the number of wild meatball herds. Help eliminate delectable accidents with today’s Groupon for southern Italian cuisine at…

Spool tells us that Groupon’s “customers regularly say they find the clever copy delightful.” I’m going to play devil’s advocate and claim that such consistent use of this kind of copy may not actually convert your prospects well over time.

Now, I am a pretty big fan of Groupon. When I say fan, I mean that one of the first things I do in the morning is hop on my computer and check my daily Groupon email to see what the day’s deal is. So, what exactly is it about Groupon that lures me to my email before I’ve even had a cup of coffee, and beats out the other noise in my inbox? I’ll tell you one thing: it’s not the copy.

Sure, sarcastic humor will cut right through your prospects’ B.S. meters, but could there be a down side? I admit that Groupon’s copy definitely worked its magic on me and lured me in. It is ridiculously funny! But the actual deals are what made me a die-hard fanatic. Now that I’m familiar with the brand, I go back to Groupon time and time again… not to read clever copy, but to get a good deal, and I am willing to bet that a lot of other Groupon customers are the same way. To be honest, I don’t even read the intro copy anymore, and it sometimes even annoys me. I just want to get down to the good stuff and all that copy is standing between me and the details of their offer. If it becomes too much of annoyance, could Groupon actually be in danger of losing even their most loyal customers?

There’s a fine line when it comes to the pluses and minuses of attention grabbing copy. We’ve written about that fine line before, and even suggested that a reader’s tolerance may have something to do with personality type. It’s a line we try to help our OnTarget clients work around every day.  One way to break through this challenge is to feature what it is you have to offer your prospects right up front. Or if you can’t find a way to do that, make it easier for prospects to find the details of your deal by using bold font or bullets.  Of course, the only way to know for sure what is going to be most effective for your prospects is to watch your data and test it. If you want to learn more about your visitors, how your copy is affecting them, and how to continuously improve it to drive better results, one of our OnTarget subscriptions could help.

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Comments (22)

  1. Funny thing about copy writing. I have hired some pretty well recommended copy writers in the past. I ask one copywriter to look at the work by another copywriter and they always think the other writers work is junk. This has happen a couple of different times with several different copywriters commenting on other well know copywriters work, without knowing it.

    Unless you have some really bad copy I think most people do not read every word away and only skim the copy to start with.

    With the professional copywriters I have hired in the past making bad comments about other copywriters work, it makes me wonder who really can judge? It is all a manner of opinion when it comes to copywriting unless it is awful writing to start with.

  2. I agree about people skimming. Nowadays its all about information overload – and people trying to get the condensed version. I worry that the days of the eloquent blog post are fading away.

  3. @Lourcey Photography – I agree one hundred percent that the internet is becoming more like cliff notes. The other major problem is people are just writing blogs because their SEO tells them to, not that they have any freaking idea what they are doing.

  4. I personally skim as well instead of reading the whole thing. I figure if something catches my eye while skimming, then they did a good job to try and get my attention.

  5. Having signed up for Groupon by falling for one of their so called ‘clever copy’. I do find that their offers are mainly for things we don’t actually need in our day to day life, but more nice to have fits the bill.

  6. The playful copy writing style of Groupon is very refreshing and well placed. This approach stands out somewhat amongst the wealth of clichéd ‘happy talk’ that gets churned out by the majority.

  7. Ok, it’s a bit gimmicky – but it still stands out among web copy, and I’d rather go back and read that sort of copy regularly than the boring copied-and-pasted-from-manufacturer’s-website tripe that 90% of the internet runs on.

  8. Im with you, I think the sarcasm is a great way to lure people in to groupon from the beginning but its not fun enough to be the only purpose. I guess most people stop reading it after a while but they still like to see whats the offer of today. Simply brilliant!

  9. @audiobible – Let the customers judge. Copy should be judged by its response to the market, unless of course it’s an awful copy to begin with.

    If enough people complain about groupon then maybe they can implement a button that effectively hides the normal copy on their site and just displays the deals’ details. -jerry

  10. Good article. And funny enough Groupon’s cutesy style bothers me as well. Just give the deal!

  11. There copy appeals to some, but its not why they are so popular. In fact, there humor took a hit with their Super Bowl ads. Its strictly the deals that make it such a popular site.

  12. I agree with you. While I like Groupon, their copy is a bit too much and over the top and sometimes turns me off.

  13. The ‘rural vespa… meatball herd’ idea simply doesn’t work. Snarky or off-color copy can grab attention and isn’t necessarily a problem provided it is well conceived and smartly delivered. It tends to be riskier though, because the chances of getting it horribly wrong are a good deal higher.

    I’ve always thought the Brits were really good at copy that if not exactly snarky, often comes with an ironic twist. Of course cultural reception is different in different places. What flies in the UK may not may not ‘translate’ as easily in an American context.

  14. Personally, I enjoy attention grabbing copy. I have an affinity for sarcastic humor, however, I’m not sure it’s the best way to convert traffic.

    Many brands have made their name this way though, so I think it likely does cultivate a long-term following in the proper markets.

  15. @Audio Bible – totally agree. I think readers process copy more like an image. Things like structure can be more important than content.

    Structure including headers, bolding, bullets, etc.

    What do you guys think?

  16. @Rohan. I agree. Just give us the deal already :-)

  17. I guess it makes them stand out, which can only be a good thing. But as more and more companies catch on and try the ‘off the wall’ copywriting technique, it can get a bit samey.

  18. Brilliant!
    Im with you, I think the sarcasm is a great way to lure people in to groupon from the beginning but its not fun enough to be the only purpose. I guess most people stop reading it after a while but they still like to see whats the offer of today.

  19. I do a lot of copywriting in my day job and am also signed up to Groupon emails. I can honestly say I’ve never even noticed their copywriting style – I simply look at the offers. Incidentally I have never actually taken advantage of any of the offers so perhaps the clever copy isn’t so good at getting conversions.

  20. I’m with you. I jump straight to the meat. But Groupon, in my view, has a reputation for delivering value … in the form of savings. It doesn’t matter what the copy is too much because Groupon subscribers know there’s a good deal waiting. In other words, Groupon can afford to be clever or try non-traditional copy styles because their conversion is high. That said, I’m sure they test conversion rates rigorously and if an approach fails miserably, they will abandon it.

  21. Groupon may have a sly way of luring people to read their daily gruopon mail. However, it is because loads of stuff in the internet may seam so cliche and groupon has a more unique way of an attack scheme.

  22. I totally agree that a reader’s tolerance may have something to do with personality type. you never want to offend somone even though the majority of people see nothing wrong with it.

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