An Old-World Gimmick for the New Media

A recent AC Nielsen report shows that fewer Internet companies advertised in 1999 than in 1998, yet the money spent on web advertising in 1999 outstripped ad spending for 1998. This interesting study clearly indicates that the Internet isn’t for everyone.

Many of the brands that thought the Internet represented their path to future prosperity in 1997 and 1998 evidently changed their minds, realizing that the Internet is best suited to brands with true interactive capabilities.

So what role should brands like Pepsi, M&M’s and Palmolive have on the Internet? You can’t buy, sample or play with the product online. Who would think of visiting their web sites, anyway? What would you expect to get out of visiting these sites?

Not every brand is suited to life on the Internet. In fact most FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands face huge challenges just finding an online niche for their products.

Perhaps one solution to easing FCMGs into online life might be found in old-world marketing. It’s a marketing trick we’ve all encountered, and many of us have used: the promotional coupon!

Every year in the U.S., more than 100 billion coupons are handed out in supermarkets, via catalogs, through the mail, or on the street. The figure indicates that this trend, far from dying, is still going strong. In fact, the tactic has been thriving since the thirties, when it first saw daylight.

So what is it about coupons that appeals to consumers? How do they manage to hook the passerby with almost addictive power?

Some years ago, I was conducting a behavioral study in Copenhagen. My research brought me to the door of one housewife who had collected more than two hundred coupons, for all sorts of things, which she kept on her fridge. I had to ask her why she had several coupons for Pampers diaper samples. Her answer was “You never know.” The lady was fifty-six years old!

Just as coupons made life easier for many marketeers around the globe in the past, it looks as if the concept might be offering brands like Pepsi, M&M’s and Palmolive a new presence on the Net. The coupon is reborn, online.

Brightstreet.com is probably one of the first companies in the world to develop an online version of the coupon idea and the first to develop patented technology (currently pending) making the coupons trackable. Brightstreet.com’s new service fills the traditional homepage with offers and coupons, each carrying the consumer’s unique user identification within its bar code, all over each brand’s web site.

One of brightstreet’s first success stories involved PETsMART. The site experienced 9,000 coupon downloads in just one day! Interestingly, most of the coupons didn’t promote the service itself. Yet more than 80 percent of the people activating the link to the PETsMART catalog downloaded the 250K file required to print a coupon.

The bar-coded coupons bearing each registered user’s unique user identification are completely trackable, so marketing managers can retrieve data and analyze the relationship between the page view on the Internet and the real-life reaction out in the store. The marketer can ascertain what coupon works best, which offers are the most effective, and what product combination motivates a consumer to drive four miles farther for a $2 discount. All of this is valuable data that we have never before been able to gather with such specific application to individuals and their location.

And it’s this intelligence-gathering potential that the coupon activates that makes this old-fashioned tool so relevant to online branding. Traditional FMCGs could soon have a serious and relevant role to play on the Internet as vehicles for coupon offers. They no longer have to just be there because their competitors are too.

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