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Fairies Are Like Hamburgers?

The Dada literary stylings of Groupon.

Last Friday’s news that Groupon, the two-year-old online coupon company based in Chicago—and the “fastest growing company ever,” according to Forbes—turned down a $5 billion-plus offer from Google prompted me to take a slightly closer look at their e-mails that pop up in my inbox every morning. I have to admit that I rarely scan below the headline, but closer inspection revealed some pretty Dada literary stylings—the type of text that Yoda might produce if he was dropped into an advertising agency. A few juicy excerpts:

An offer for a Hamburger joint: “Like fairies, hamburgers are famously difficult to photograph because they can take thousands of forms and wear a variety of sauces.”

An offer for yoga classes: “Yoga will enhance your strength, flexibility, and posture—all necessary to fulfilling your New Year's resolution of breaking into more museums.”

An offer for laser hair-removal: “Much like the sale of sardines at movie-theater concession stands, the popularity of laser hair-removal treatments is evidence that most people secretly long to be dolphins.”

An offer for RedEnvelope: “Without online stores, people would be forced to hunt and gather their gifts while risking injury from roving packs of holiday-shopping velociraptors. Shop behind the safety of a firewall with today’s Groupon.” 

An offer for wine-tasting classes: “Wine classes allow fans to re-create an episode in the life of everyone's favorite crime-fighting sommelier, Mr. Belvedere, without having to produce a hit ’80s sitcom.”

Why the off-beat tone? Why not, says Ben Kobold, a writer at the company since May 2009 (which makes him the second-most tenured member of the editorial team); the company’s voice sets them apart from traditional marketing, he told me, and humor has always been part of their promotional strategy.

In the early days of the company, Groupon hired from the Chicago comedy scene. Now, says Kobold, it has evolved that most of the customer service team “has some kind of improv or theatre background,” with head shots decorating their cubicles. The actual operation of the company, however, is run more like a magazine than an improv comedy troop, with an editorial staff nearing 200 composed of copywriters, fact-checkers, 15 voice editors, and an editor-in-chief. The team works to write the e-mails and dream up further Groupon lore. For example, it came up with the holiday “Grouponicus,” which, in case you were wondering, “is the dazzling new wintertime holiday that lets you give fun.”

Will this staff of hundreds still be laughing at themselves this time next year? As fairies and hamburgers are famously difficult to photograph, the success of a start-up is notoriously difficult to predict.

Chloe Schama is the assistant managing editor of The New Republic.

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