Okay, there is no Bierce Award for Press Releases. Feel good for pointing that out to us? Well, that was the thinking behind a Groupon promotion that stirred up a lot of snark and chatter over the President’s Day weekend.
It all started with a press release over BusinessWire Friday that read: “Starting tomorrow, Groupon will be kicking off Presidents Day weekend by giving customers 10 dollars off 40 dollars when they purchase a deal for any local business. The $10 bill, as everyone knows, features President Alexander Hamilton — undeniably one of our greatest presidents and most widely recognized for establishing the country’s financial system.”
“Groupon copywriters may want to find a discount for a remedial U.S. history course,” NBC News snarked in a blog post Saturday. “The apparent flub set off a wave of snarky and disbelieving tweets — and some Twitter users suggested it may have been a deliberate gag or a publicity stunt,” Daniel Arkin observed, ending with: “Groupon has yet to issue a correction.”
“The folks at Groupon might be in need of a history lesson this Presidents Day,” was Jose Delreal’s lede on Politico, although he, too, went out with the observation that “the blatant gaffe even touched off some speculation that perhaps Groupon had made the mistake intentionally in order to create viral buzz for the company…”
"Most Presidents' Day promotions make people fall asleep, so we wanted to do something different that was in line with our brand and sense of humor that got people talking and writing about the promotion," a Groupon spokesperson finally admitted to Mashable’s Seth Fiegerman yesterday.
And how does a company built on its sophomoric copywriting — deft to some, daft to others — go about doing that?
"We started with the understanding that there's nothing people like more that pointing out that someone else is wrong. In fact, they like it so much they don't really stop to think about whether it was on purpose,” spokesman Bill Roberts emailed USA Today’s Cooper Allen. “But we were pleased some of the more savvy followers enjoyed the joke.”
There were those, of course, who didn’t get the joke, or didn’t enjoy it if they did, and they wrote and tweeted about it in droves.
Mashable’s Fiegerman points a finger at USA Today in particular, in fact, for a story on Saturday that pointed out Groupon was still featuring the release on its press page on Saturday despite all the helpful corrections it had received from Mr. and Ms. Q. Publics.
But Groupon corporate communicators had been egging the prank along in earlier statements.
“When asked whether the press release was a publicity stunt, Erin Yeager, a spokeswoman for Groupon, wrote in an email, ‘A little fiscal responsibility is not something we joke about,’” ABC News’ Susanna Kim reported.
Kim followed that, however, with the observation that “Groupon’s marketing is known for its quirky sense of humor,” citing an earlier release announcing the company would stay open on Thanksgiving Day that was attributed to “a fictitious spokesperson, ‘Barnicus Stapleton, Groupon’s Director of Website Openness and author of the pamphlet, <Tag, You’re It> A Child’s Guide to HTML Coding.’”
A CNN hed stated: “Groupon discounts U.S. history, declares Alexander Hamilton president.” Alan Duke reports that “When people suggested Groupon's promotion was tongue-in-cheek, it responded through its Twitter account: "Joke? We'd never joke about saving $10! #AllKindsOfSerious
“@carmstrong07 was not convinced, tweeting: "Gee whiz, it's almost as if @Groupon did something ridiculous to get everyone online talking about them,” Duke continues. “‘We're shocked by this implication! Shocked!’ the company replied.”
When in doubt, trot out Captain Renault and “Shocked, shocked!” Which brings us back to Chris Christie, of course.
“The historical gaffe has been noted by almost all national media outlets, making it ...The genius marketing move of the year,” Tom Bergeron writes on NJBiz (regarding Groupon, not Christie). But if Christie could only figure out a way to convince everybody it was all a big joke, maybe he’ll be nominated for genius political move of the year. Or at least a Bierce Award for Cynicism. Good ol’ Ambrose defined a cynic as “a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence, the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.”