Is Groupon-speak good writing?

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I was intrigued recently by this New York Times story about how Groupon has staked its business on the distinctive writing voice it uses in the daily deal emails it sends to members.

Though I’ll acknowledge it’s sometimes clever, more often than not, I think Groupon’s copy is terrible. It’s what you’d get if you had made the mistake of letting me or any of my equally smartass classmates in gifted high school English write it — if Google had been invented back then. Groupon-speak violates most of my precepts for good writing:

1. Good writing should get to the point, and every word should be relevant. Groupon routinely starts with the equivalent of “The dictionary defines leadership as …” before circling back around to the featured deal or merchant. Some recent examples:

–Click READ MORE to continue reading and to make or view comments.–

Anyone who claims that humans weren’t meant to fly was likely pecked in their neonatal soft-spot by the predator hawk that delivers all babies.

For a deal for introductory flying lessons.

When Pangaea—the earth’s greatest rock supergroup—broke up, many fans blamed it on the high-heeled wiles of Europe’s inseparable girlfriend, Italia.

For another pizza deal.

Early humans believed hair was actually the tentacles of an octopus living inside their skulls—an amusingly quaint notion now that modern science has proven it’s technically a cuttlefish.

For a haircut deal.

(The first and third examples are so bizarrely fantastical that it’s as if they used a random-word generator to spit out three and then challenged themselves to write a sentence using them all,)

2. Good writing uses clear, simple language built on strong nouns and verbs. Groupon writers choose esoteric words only to make themselves look smart. That’s the definition of pretentious, and pretentiousness is unattractive.

3. Good writing conveys information about the topic at hand. In its attempt to be clever, Groupon usually tells us nothing about the merchant or product beyond what’s on the merchant’s website. I’d much rather hear the story of how a pastry chef began her career or why her kiwi tarts are unique than to learn that New Zealand is known for its kiwi fruit and that epicures have long ringed the globe to snatch the ovoid produce from the spindly tree to which it is endemic. This lack of research on the actual business leads to problems, since the local reader is often more knowledgeable than the remote Groupon writer. Groupon recently said of a pizzeria in my hometown of Durham, North Carolina, something like, “Still swabbing your tears after the University of North Carolina Tar Heels were eliminated from the NCAA tournament? Then assuage your grief with this deal on pizza.” The pizzeria is in North Carolina, yes, fewer than 10 miles from UNC. But it’s two blocks from the edge of Duke University’s campus, and the Duke Blue Devils are the mortal enemy of the Tar Heels.

My suspicion is that it’s not the writing at all but the 50%-off deals that keep Groupon members engaged. Are you a member? What’s the appeal for you? Do you enjoy the writing?

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Kimberly Israel 06/16/2011, 12:24 pm:

    I think the first and third are great fun sentences all by themselves, but I agree that they have nothing to do with learning about the companies.

  2. Katie 06/17/2011, 9:35 am:

    I usually skip the Groupon copy and go straight to the deals (which I do like) – because if I read the copy, it either confuses me or irritates me with its pretentiousness. (And it does sound like they always have a thesaurus handy, so they can choose the most obscure words.)

  3. D Julio 07/14/2011, 10:02 am:

    I agree, I wish more people had this point of view.

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