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Is Copywriting Dead? Groupon’s Self-Service Model and Storytelling in Advertising

Feb 18, 2014

Is copywriting dead?

Groupon made a copywriting gaffe (or did it?) over Presidents Day, announcing a $10 discount in honor of “President Alexander Hamilton” whose well-coiffed head graces the bill.

Hamilton was a lot of things in American history – Chief of Staff to General George Washington, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and loser to Aaron Burr in an 1804 duel over honor – but he was never President of the United States.

One tweeter by the handle of @carmstrong07 responded, “Gee whiz, it’s almost as if @Groupon did something ridiculous to get everyone online talking about them.” To which @Groupon responded, “We’re shocked by this implication! Shocked!”

Okay, so the poorly fact-checked press release was probably just Groupon having a little PR fun. The company has long been known as a quirky paradise for copywriters, complete with a Groupon Academy where scribes could hone their skills writing copy like, “Spicy sauces are great for deterring children from licking frozen poles, substituting lost winter coats, and swiftly ending staring contests.” Business Insider named Groupon one of the most innovative alternative storytellers back in 2010.

And that’s a great way to understand copywriting – not just as words and messages but as stories. Which is why we were sad to read that Groupon is adding a self-service model with Deal Builder, a platform for companies to create their own Groupon ads. Where will all the poor English majors work now?

This is a histogram showing how far people scroll through SlateDon’t worry, copywriting is not dead, and in fact, it’s important than ever. Slate – an online magazine – did a study of its own visitors. 38% are gone as soon as they land on an article and 5% of those remaining won’t scroll down to read. That leaves just 57% for copywriters to work with, so the copy better be informative, engaging and succinct.

Want to get your company’s message heard?

First, you need a story. Then, you need someone who knows how to tell a story.

It helps if a copywriter enjoys savoring words like juicy cuts of beef. But English majors aren’t the only copywriters. Groupon’s former Senior Marketing Copywriter, Daniel Kibblesmith, was a comedian. They like words, too. George Carlin had a whole bit in the 70s about how people talk about time – “What time is it?” is more direct than “Do you have the time?” yet more self-doubting than “What time you got?”

Those are the kind of subtle observations that good copywriters bring to a brand’s messaging. And if companies can combine that with effective storytelling, which is what ThinkInk aims to do, then great copywriting becomes great content writing becomes great PR.

That’s what made Groupon’s copy so great. Not just the puns and metaphors but the ability to look at a product or company, get to the heart of it, put it in a context that will resonate with the audience, tell the story and serve it up with a side of humour. Hopefully, Groupon doesn’t lose that word magic as it goes down the self-service route.

Is copywriting dead? What do you think about the quality of copywriting that you see on a daily basis? Does it engage you or bore you to tears? Share your thoughts with the ThinkInk community!

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