Brittney Sheffield / Culture / February 19th, 2014

It Really Grinds My Gears: When "Cute" Ideas Aren't Cute

Monday was President’s Day, a holiday that is highly anticipated by those who have the day off and often forgotten by those who don’t. With this in mind, Groupon cleverly crafted a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign honoring the much-loved President Alexander Hamilton.The promotion offered $10 off deals of $40 or more starting the Saturday of President’s Day weekend.

Groupon Celebrates Presidents Day by Honoring Alexander Hamilton   Business Wire

Just one problem, which you’ve probably already figured out: Alexander Hamilton was never president, though he was George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury.

In a world where LiterallyUnbelievable.org exists, it’s not hard to take the promotion seriously, but Groupon claims it was all just some good, clean fun.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

The first part of that statement is pretty accurate. Most President’s Day promotions do fall flat. However the idea that Groupon’s promotion is in line with their brand and sense of humor is silly. In my opinion, this just demonstrates that Groupon (or at least their spokesperson) doesn’t quite get the difference between a company brand and a company culture.

When I visit a website on which I intend to make a purchase, I’m usually turned off by a brand that overplays their sense of humor.* Groupon’s branding doesn’t give off the humor vibe at all. The About page on Groupon’s site is very professional and trustworthy. It details their policies and how they will help you out if a business you purchase a deal for closes its doors. The only hint of humor on their About page is found in one of their Value statements, “Make Life Less Boring”.

I bet Groupon is a pretty cool place to work. I imagine they have spontaneous pingpong tournaments and an inter-office chat where they share the latest cat meme with one another. But those types of qualities are small pieces of a company culture, not a brand image.

When considering a tongue-in-cheek promotion like Groupon’s, ask yourself these questions first.

Not only did Groupon not mention the Hamilton joke on Facebook, they appeared to backpedal on the idea.
Not only did Groupon not mention the Hamilton joke on Facebook, they appeared to backpedal on the idea.

1. Will nearly everyone realize this is a joke?

Obviously, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Some people just don’t get jokes. We pity them, but you still have to ask if your “joke” will land with your customers. If so, run with the idea. If not, do you care? And if people don’t get it, what will they think about your company? Will they think you’re misinformed? Heartless? Immature? I have to hand it to Groupon, they didn’t apologize for their idea once it was out there.

2. How should we get the word out?

If you look at Groupon’s Facebook page it gives you a much better feel for their sense of humor than their website. At least one of the ways Groupon promoted this deal was via Press Release, which was housed on their company site. If you’re going to run a promotion that many people won’t understand, release it via a channel where the sense of humor of your business is reflected clearly and where  you can easily converse with your users.

The balance between brand and culture can be delicate, but it’s an important delineation to make. Culture should fuel your brand, but it should not be your brand. The things that drive you and your employees will not necessarily resonate with your customers.

Here at 352, we don’t shy away from ideas that are fueled by our staff’s sense of humor, but we know that anyone with access to the internet can make judgments about our brand image while only our employees truly understand our company culture.

 

*The Offerman Woodshop is an exception. They are consistently witty in all that they do. From the site content to the responses they send to Contact submissions, customers expect and will receive a consistent Offerman-inspired experience.

Image Credit: Kevin Utting