Monday, October 3, 2011

I saw the Gucci ad but didn't clip the coupon.

          My students verge on the hysterical when I suggest they experiment with putting a coupon in a fashion ad. They're horrified at the thought that a Marc Jacobs or Guess ad might have a 2-for-1 coupon or a coupon for 20% off. Even though, when asked, they say they'd definitely use them.

          What do we have against coupons? Or maybe I should ask, what do we have against people who use coupons?

           People redeemed 3.3 billion coupons in the U.S. last year. Advertising Age reports that 70% of those were redeemed by "coupon enthusiasts", people who have redeemed at least 188 coupons in the past year.

            In fact, coupons are becoming a problem for some retailers. Target, for example, has a new policy: two buy-one-get-one-free coupons cannot be combined to get both items free. Rite-Aid has new rules on multiple coupons for the same item, and Walgreens follows suite with a policy that says "management reserves the right to limit quantities". Chains don't want to appear stingy, but they don't want people to stock up for a lifetime, either.

             Coupons for fashions? Perhaps only from stores, and only very generally, probably not for specific brands. But before we rule coupons out for luxury brands, shouldn't we at least do some research? Will it hurt the brand? Will there be repercussions, and if so, what kind? Are you sure?

              On the whiteboard in class during a discussion like this, I created a full-page coupon ad for Neiman-Marcus. It said, "Only once in a lifetime will there be a coupon in a Neiman-Marcus ad. Please use a sterling silver scissors to cut it out." I would love to see an ad like this tested. It might sell a lot of merchandise at a 20% discount, and it might even help the store's identity. I don't think it would hurt one iota.

               Stanley Marcus, once the company's Chairman of the Board, was a quality fanatic. Many times, quality has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. A coupon might help accomplish that.

                I once had to do a newspaper ad for a chain of women's specialty stores. Their buyer had purchased about a thousand expensive sweat shirts with etchings of animals illustrated on them --- lions, tigers, elephants, hippos, and so on. They were desperate to sell them, and I talked the president into letting me run a coupon ad for them. I showed him an ad with the headline, "$20 off on endangered sweat shirts." He was nervous. They sold out.

                No, I never saw a Gucci coupon. But never underestimate the power of something your customers will love, even if you don't.

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