Direct Line Blog

At Groupon, bowling alleys are pure poetry

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For those wanting to know how to make a turkey burger or a high colonic at a luxury spa sound like Shakespeare — or at least like something out of feckless fabulist James Frey's fiction factory — see Groupon's editor-in-chief Aaron With.

"We turn away business left and right, and we want our copy to follow that curation," With told attendees of the American Magazine Conference this week in New York. "We try to avoid marketing cliches. If you use content from an ad, the consumer will smell it as an ad. So we try to inject a little bit of poetry to describe the bowling alley."

That sometimes fanciful, sometimes frat-boy prose is a major factor in closing the daily deal, it turns out. Take Groupon's recent pitch for a high-end burger joint in Times Square offering 57% off a meal for two that came off as a cross between an Adam Platt restaurant review in New York magazine and Jimmy Kimmel's prosaic monologue: "Patrons can dive into aqueous Eastern flavors with the Asian tuna club, which nestles a yellowfin tuna steak seared to a succulent rare beneath avocado, pickled ginger, and wasabi mayonnaise, or crunch into the crusty baguette of the pepper-steak sandwich, which shrouds grilled sirloin in extra heat by adding horseradish mayonnaise and telling embarrassing stories from its preteen years."

Humor, as With sees it, "makes daily life a little more surprising for people." It also has its risks. "If you be creative, you're going to risk offending," he shrugs. "It's about mitigating those risks."

Consider a Groupon promotion for a teeth-whitening product that alluded to consumers being "punched in the mouth by God," which, improbably, managed to offend some of the more pious among us. (Groupon got around the problem by simply changing "God" to the much-less-worshiped-nowadays "Zeus.")

"We try to maintain this sharp, aggressive humor, but appeal to a wider audience," says With. "It's a weird game to be playing with this big an audience, but it keeps it interesting."

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