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It's a mighty strong call to action and a potential offline branding opportunity. Coupons deserve advertisers' attention.

People like a bargain. Getting something for nothing (or at least, something for very little) is enough to make many consumers who may never have considered a product or service suddenly open their wallets.

One benefit of online advertising is that a consumer can receive, explore, and respond to an offer fluidly. By providing actionable offers, interactive ads go well beyond marketing messages.

Though they haven’t taken off to the extent I once hoped they would, ads that generate coupons on demand have held their ground, despite all the recent economic turmoil. Online couponing holds some of the greatest potential interactive advertising can offer.

The bottom line for a consumer confronted with an advertisement is, “What’s in it for me?” If an answer isn’t instantaneously obvious (or forthcoming), they’re gone. Interactive advertising is overwhelmingly opt-in. Nothing is forcing consumers to participate if they don’t want to. Let’s not kid ourselves. Even those of us who make our living in this industry don’t go out of our way to click on, or interact with, the majority of Web ads.

Coupons provide a powerful incentive to interact with advertising. They clearly state what’s in it for the consumer: a deal. Most can be redeemed online, but of course virtually all advertising and rich media technologies make printing an ad or coupon a no-brainer. Because most computer users are attached to a printer, there’s little effort in getting an offer into a hardcopy format.

Once the consumer has printed a coupon (assuming it is not redeemed electronically), it becomes a new branding tool for the advertiser. Printed coupons usually reside on a desktop, in a wallet, or on an automobile dashboard for some time before being redeemed. Advertisers can take advantage of online/offline branding potential.

Coupons are very precise marketing indicators. Advertisers can track redemption and obtain campaign effectiveness feedback and metrics related to the branding potential of an ad after the fact.

Objections to couponing include not being able to effectively restrict the number of times a single consumer can print or redeem a coupon. Limits to customizing coupons often exist, such as for different geographic or demographic segments. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Most online coupons have the same requirements and restriction as those that appear in Sunday newspaper circulars. Though little keeps consumers from buying eight copies of the Sunday paper, then picking up eight pounds of coffee at a discount, it generally doesn’t happen. Would most advertisers be upset if a consumer printed out a dozen coupons and gave them to friends?

Geographic customization of coupons remains a hurdle but can be contained with a careful media buy or carefully targeted email lists.

Look into couponing to enhance rich media campaigns. Offer the consumer a bargain, provide branding after the fact, and get good data on return on investment (ROI) and redemption levels — while adding very little to your production budget. What’s not to like?

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