A Two-For-One Deal: Best of Gossage And Groupon

If Howard Luck Gossage, the deft copywriter, were starting out today, I bet he'd be writing for Groupon.

Gossage (1917-1969) famously answered his own rhetorical question -- "Is advertising worth saving?" -- by proclaiming that he didn't think most of it was from an economic standpoint. "From an aesthetic point of view, I'm damn sure it's not," he continued. "It is thoughtless, boring, and there is simply too much of it."

Then Gossage would go out and show just how effective and endearing a good print ad could be with classics for the likes of Eagle Shirtmakers ("Is This Your Shirt? If So, Miss Afflerbach Will Send You Your (Eagle) Label"), Qantas airlines ("Be the First One on Your Block to Win a Kangaroo," and his playful response for Rover Motor Co. to David Ogilvy's masterpiece for Rolls Royce ("At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Land-Rover comes from the road of the engine.")



His copy, as you might have gathered, was long form. And it often involved some sort of collaboration between the marketer and the reader, be it a coupon (name the new "speedy, sybaritic" Super Constellation in Quatas' fleet) or a challenge ("Coach Stahl Wants You To Walk to Seattle" -- for the World's Fair and a Rainier Ale).

I was reminded of all this when I read The New Yorker's James Surowiecki this week on Groupon's bold decision to reject Google's $6-billion buyout offer. Among other things, Surowiecki points out that Groupon is an old-school business in that it does not depend on the kindness of its consumers to produce most of its work. That is, of course, what makes social nets like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter such compelling business models.

The bigger Groupon gets, on he other hand, the more salespeople it needs to hire to schmooze with local business owners. And the more copywriters it has to be-cubicle to turn out copy like the following which, I must admit, I generally give at least a glancing look to every morning:

"Dirty clothes are traditionally worn only by grungy rock stars, mystical imaginary vagabonds, and royals pretending to be 'regular people' for the purpose of understanding life outside castle walls. If you don't fit into one of these categories, pick up today's Groupon for half off services at Embassy Cleaners..."

or the lede for this twofer for Smoothy King:

"During a failed attempt to discover gravity, Sir Isaac Newton fell face first into a snow bank while carrying a heap of delicious fruit -- inadvertently discovering the health benefits of mixing squashed nutritious food with sub-Arctic cold."

Then there was the headline a month ago that promised "$19 for Full-Day Bike and Helmet Rental from Trail Masters Mountain Bikes ($40 value)."

"Hey," I pitch to myself, "you've always wanted to go mountain biking." And before I know it, I've convinced myself to put myself down for two. I envision either the equivalent of two full-day jaunts at Blue Mountain Reservation or a guided two-hour excursion with a "pro-level mountain biker."

Does the wife Deirdre want to accompany me on a full-day jaunt at Blue Mountain Reservation?

"Are you nuts?"

Does my trekking buddy, Bruce?

"I've have enough trouble finding time to hike."

My son, Duncan?

All of a sudden his Nokia's text function seems to be malfunctioning.

As dawns breaks this morning, a few inches of untrammeled snow lay on the suburban streets, the outside temp is 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the furnace is churning away like it was in a steel mill. My Groupon investment is clearly in hibernation until the spring. But, still, I feel good about it. Where else are clever writers and pavement-pounding ad salespeople finding gainful employment these days?

(For more on Howard Luck Gossage, I recommend Is There Any Hope for Advertising?, (University of Illinois Press, 1986) a collection of his critiques and writing philosophy edited by Kim Rotzoll, Jarlath Graham and Barrows Mussey.)

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