Amid Daily Deal Hype, AP Puts Mobile Spin on Classic Circulars

There’s no shortage of mobile shopping deals, rewards and check-in offerings, and companies continue to enhance local mobile search and display ad programs. But the traditional newspaper circular remains a desired means of discovering local weekly retail discounts for many consumers, and companies including The Associated Press are investing in ways to modernize the experience.

Rather than designing a platform allowing publishers to plug into newer types of offerings like check-in loyalty programs or daily deals, AP wants to replicate the tried-and-true success of print circulars. In addition to leapfrogging online circulars and going straight to a mobile technology, the AP approach takes advantage of established relationships between paper publishers and retailers that have placed print ad inserts in Sunday papers for years.

The news and information network believes its newspaper publisher partners are “ready to play in that area,” said Jane Seagrave, AP chief revenue office and SVP. “Circulars remain an important piece of newspapers’ revenue and actually retailers tell us that the print circulars continue to work better than anything for them,” she continued. “We weren’t trying to get into the group deals space.”

The AP’s iCircular platform acts like a rich media ad unit, allowing retailers to target digital versions of store circulars by Zip Code, and categorize products. Consumers can build shopping lists, locate stores on a map, and share offers with friends.

Simply porting the experience of perusing a print circular to the mobile environment is not enough, said Michael Boland, senior analyst and program director at local media research firm BIA/Kelsey. “You need to take that discovery spirit and translate that to the mobile device,” he said, noting that AP’s approach seems to do that.

BIA/Kelsey pegs the circular business at $10 billion, according to Peter Krasilovsky, the firm’s VP and program director, Marketplaces. The company predicts U.S. mobile local ad revenues will multiply from $213 million in 2009 to $2 billion in 2014. How much of that growing pie will go towards digitized circulars is anyone’s guess.

Circulars have historically been far more popular with national retailers with local presences, than with small local retailers, Krasilovsky said during a BIA/Kelsey webinar held Thursday afternoon. Several national retailers – from Family Dollar to OfficeMax – feature their print circulars online on their own websites, allowing consumers to virtually flip through pages and scroll over individual products to zoom in and learn more about discounts.

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Gannett’s ShopLocal has offered online circulars for years, allowing consumers to view timely retailer discounts within its PaperBoy ad units delivered to consumer’s PCs and mobile devices. More recently, the Gannett division has unveiled iPhone and Android circular apps, as well as its SmartCircular app for the iPad (pictured above).

In the next few months, AP will test the service with around 30 newspapers working with five to seven retailers, according to Seagrave. “The idea would be to have [the newspaper firms] sell it as an extension or upsell of their print product; it will depend a lot from newspaper to newspaper,” she said.

“We’re looking at what’s working. We don’t pretend to have the final answer yet,” Seagrave added. “We’re trying to figure out whether this has interest for them or for the retailers.”

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