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Tactics: Old-fashioned approach boosts response, improves measurability

by Scott McCannell

Three years ago, we started using coupons in our clients’ ads. We met resistance at first, usually in comments like “Coupons are old fashioned” or “Nobody uses coupons any more.”

I don’t care whether coupons are old fashioned or whether our clients’ competitors use them. I do care that our clients get a good return from their advertising dollars. Here are four reasons you should use coupons in your space advertising:

1. Coupons tell your readers you expect response: When a reader sees a coupon in your ad, she assumes you will offer her a sample, a demo program or a brochure. It tells her that you expect her to request what it is you have to offer.

We know this from experience. In a recent Readex survey regarding of one of our ads, a reader said about our client, “This company wants you to contact them about the item or items that you want more information about.”

2. Coupons give your readers another way to respond: If you want more response, make it easy for your reader to respond. Include your 800 number and Web addresses. But what if your reader is stuck on an airplane? What if she is reading your ad while waiting at the dentist’s office? What if she doesn’t have a pen to write down the phone number or URL? Do you expect her to remember it?

Your reader can tear out a coupon and put it in her pocket or briefcase and file it away for later action—and often she will take action:

“Many readers tear out a card or coupon and leave it in a pocket or drawer for days or even weeks before deciding to send it in.” –Bob Stone, Successful Direct Marketing Methods

Coupons help you track response: As part of a well-thought-out, disciplined system of tracking that includes recording calls and measuring Web-traffic, coupons can help give you a better picture of total response to your ads. However, it’s often hard to convince clients of the importance of tracking response closely. And not because they don’t want the best return on their investment but because the world is moving too quickly to focus that tightly. In situations like this, coupons can help you gauge relative response rates to the same ad in two different publications or to two different ads in the same publication.

Coupons give you an opportunity to cross sell: We haven’t restricted coupons to direct mail or print advertising. We use them on brochures and other collateral material, too. People who request brochures for one of our clients’ products will likely have interest in other products. Putting a coupon to request literature about related products on the back of a brochure is a simple way to respond to that interest.

* * *

Three weeks ago, as I sat on Alaska flight 352 from PDX to Orange County, I watched a sales rep for a Portland manufacturer of medical equipment read “SkyMall.” He must have been interested in learning Spanish, German or Japanese because he carefully tore out the coupon from a language course ad.

And tucked it into the case of his Palm handheld.

Scott McCannell is vice president and creative director of Sanda Communications. Please send your comments about this article to

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