During the obligatory morning check of my inbox to see which spa was offering a Groupon for a colon cleanse and infrared therapy (what?), I noticed a smug cat atop a stratocumulus cloud giving me the evil eye from underneath the participating spa's details. I scrolled down to see that he was spouting off some nonsense about purchasing Ferraris in the “Groupon Says” portion of the email at the bottom of each featured deal, where the cat typically appears.
What does buying a Ferrari have to do with colon hydrotherapy? And why must this cat have his tongue out, as if to brazenly hiss his point across? It is too early for that kind of sass. This cat is snarky, arbitrary, nonsensical and omnipotent. If Garfield is a depressed cynic, Groupon Cat is a digressive comedian.
Groupon Cat who, in his own words, claims to be a “pimp cat with good offers,” was
born out of controversy, connected to controversy, as a way for the company to rebut critical comments during the SEC-mandated IPO “quiet period,” which limits a company's public statements. Groupon couldn't legally respond to backlash against it, so it created used a cat to make vague retorts instead.
In a post on the company's blog titled “Groupon Guide to the Quiet Period,” the character, named “Groupon the Cat,” who “dispenses ancient truisms that still have relevance to our modern lives,” made light of the backlash by outlining “hazing rituals” that companies must go through while awaiting their IPOs. Examples include “Wait until the company is sleeping to smear scream-activated bees on its face. Lesson Learned: Don't believe your company's own 'buzz.'”
Groupon Cat became a mainstay and now shares his oddball wisdom each day with millions of daily deal hunters via his “Groupon Says” column. The cat's banter has nothing to do with what is being sold, since the musings are consistent across each city, nor does it do much to convince people to buy the deal. Is it simply to provide comic relief while you make your purchase? Certainly I can see how one might need some comedy to ease the immediate buyer's remorse that would ensue after buying a ticket to see One for the Money, but maybe there's another aspect to it.
I contacted the company to get some more insight. Groupon Humor Editor (yes, they have one) Daniel Kibblesmith (and yes, that's his real name) told me, “The cat was chosen as a way of quickly signaling to merchants and customers which part of the deal write-ups were pertaining to the businesses and which were strictly from the voice of Groupon. Our aversion to cutesy-ness well intact, we chose the uglier option of two boring, terrible cats. The Internet has enough beautiful cats already. There have been occasional calls to eliminate the cat, but it seems integral to the brand at this point, and would signify a step toward becoming a generic corporate voice.”
He went on to say, “The use of humor in Groupon is one of the primary ways we distinguish ourselves, and a natural product of the people who work here. We try to craft the kind of writing we'd want to read, including filling it with hidden messages about where platinum is buried.”
Platinum! How fancy. Perhaps Groupon Cat will one day upgrade his gold chain and pendant to a more prestigious element if he can get some time off to mine. Whether Groupon Cat is used to broadcast the Groupon voice or to differentiate the company from the hundreds of other rip-off sites, there he sits at the bottom of your email, hell-bent on balancing out the joy of bargain shopping with a healthy shot of dry wit.
Groupon CEO Andrew Mason was quoted in Vanity Fair saying, “As we get bigger, instead of being like most companies, conforming and becoming more normal, we want to become weirder.” Whether it be through the cat's daily nonsensical preachings or through discounts for lasers being shot into your eyes, it seems Mason is sticking to his business goals.
Not every business decision need be purely logical. If the cat exists simply to up Groupon's oddball factor, maybe that's enough. At least it creates intrigue. The cat doesn't do much to convince people to buy the deal, nor does it often make sense, but what a drab world we'd live in if some things didn't exist just for the sake of being weird. Like this embroidered Beyonce and Jay-Z pillow. Or secret hints for platinum miners buying group-discount colonic treatments.