A new fleet of coupon initiatives is taking flight as more and more manufacturers purchase first-class freestanding insert programs for their family of brands.
Industry observers point to a rise in "corporate solo events," or solo FSIs. Solo FSIs are coupon booklets delivered with the weekend newspaper. Solo FSIs feature a family of brands from one specific company, plus editorial in the form of recipes and tips. Partnerships with other marketers, retailers and charitable organizations are often included as well.
FSIs accounted for 86% of the 248 billion coupons distributed last year, up from 84% in 2001, according to NCH Marketing Services, Deerfield, Ill., a coupon processor. Much of that increase is due to solo FSIs.
There are several reasons for the focus on solo FSIs. The biggest is that they provide corporate branding and consumer recognition opportunities, according to NCH.
The "brandSaver" from Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, and "Food & Family" from Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., dominate the solo-FSI business.
Both are magazine-like mailings that contain product information, content and external company/organization partnerships.
"P&G is very pleased with the results of its brandSaver initiative to date," a P&G spokesman told SN. "Results indicate that both our customers and shoppers are pleased with our approach, and P&G is committed to continuing to improve the program." The spokesman declined further comment.
The August issue of brandSaver included 20 pages of coupons, offering a total of $55 in savings on brands like Pringles, Sunny D, Folgers, Secret, Olay, Noxzema, Dawn and Mr. Clean. The majority of the face values ranged from 25 cents to $2 off. There was even one offer for a $7 discount on the Swiffer WetJet starter kit.
The issue featured a back-to-school theme, and a partnership between P&G and Binney & Smith's Crayola brand. Inside was a mail-in certificate for a free Crayola gift pack, available with the purchase of any two items from select Crayola products.
The partnership went even further with coupon offers that encouraged the purchase of P&G and Crayola products. One coupon, for instance, offered $1.50 off any size of Sunny D beverage with the purchase of any Crayola product and an eight-pack of Pringles "Snack Stacks."
P&G's brandSaver not only promotes existing brands, but also new ones. The second page of the August issue was devoted entirely to new products, including Noxzema daily exfoliating cleanser and Olay wet cloths.
The solo FSI is part of an integrated program for brandSaver that includes a partner Web site, www.brandsaver.com, and retail alliances. Just weeks ago, a portion of the brandSaver was featured on the front cover of a Waldbaum's circular. The ad highlighted several of the brands featured in the August issue, including Herbal Essence body wash, Scope mouthwash, Crest White Strips and Ivory soap. Waldbaum's is a division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.
Like the P&G brandSaver, each of Kraft's Food & Family mailings has a specific theme. Typically, these revolve around the season, like back-to-school. The back-to-school issue of Food & Family, distributed last week, featured the Jell-O, Claussen, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia and Lunchables brands, among others.
The six-page issue featured a variety of lunchbox recipes, such as Turkey Wrap-Up and Monkey Face Sandwich.
It also highlighted several new portable products, including Philadelphia To-Go, a bagel packaged with cream cheese, and a line of Nabisco "Pouch" Snacks, including Jell-O Pudding Bites and Capri Sun fruit rolls.
Seven coupons were included in the issue. Most offered $1 off two products.
Food & Family is packed with recipe ideas and cooking tips. Cool Whip, Kraft Mayo, A.1. Marinade, Creme Savers, Grey Poupon and Philadelphia cream cheese are among the brands that have been featured.
Officials at Kraft were unavailable for comment.
While P&G and Kraft control the solo FSI territory, other marketers have used the tactic as well. Unilever and SC Johnson are among them. Representatives from Unilever were unavailable for comment. SC Johnson declined to comment.
"Larger companies typically use these tools because they have enough brands to create an effective promotion," said Stacie McAnuff, company spokeswoman, Valassis, Livonia, Mich., a marketing-services company that's active in the FSI business.
McAnuff declined to discuss specific clients, but said there's been an increase in the amount of solo FSIs from Valassis. In 2002, Valassis ran eight solo FSIs. This year, it expects to run more than 10.
Such programs increase awareness of brands, provide mass reach and generate trial to attract new users, McAnuff said.
For marketers that can afford it, the solo FSI gives them much more freedom than they would have in participating in the main co-op FSI, said Lorraine Gallaher, director of marketing, CMS, Winston-Salem, N.C., a subsidiary of Inmar Enterprises, a provider of promotional settlement and information management services.
"It gives marketers control over the editorial," Gallaher said. "They can put in recipes or other material that is of value to their consumers."
The strategy also helps manufacturers build alliances with retailers by showing they have a plan to boost sales across categories.
"If manufacturers want to see their products remain on the retail shelf, they've got to move them off the retail shelf," she said.
Since solo FSIs are expensive, many marketers employ a different technique to make their coupons stand out. Rather than purchase a solo FSI, they instead buy multiple pages within the main co-op book. These pages are then used to promote a family of brands across the company.
Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods and Nestle are among the manufacturers who have purchased these FSIs, typically called corporate group events.
ConAgra Foods, Omaha, Neb., uses corporate group events to leverage the strength of its brand portfolio to satisfy customer and consumer needs, said Chris Kircher, a company spokesman. On average, ConAgra's group events range between two and four pages.
"It makes sense to bundle the advertising of our brands in an FSI for the benefit of the retailer and consumer," Kircher said.
ConAgra groups FSI advertising based on specific consumer needs; common occasions, such as back-to-school; or holidays. Individual brands benefit by getting improved placement within an FSI at a lower cost, Kircher noted.
"This allows us to highlight the variety of our brands and the fact that we have products for every eating occasion and location," said Kircher. "It also provides greater impact with consumers."
ConAgra views couponing as an important way to drive trial on new products and for consumers to retry products after product improvements have been made.
"Couponing is also an important way to suggest new usage occasions for products," Kircher noted.
The rise in corporate-solo and group events indicates that the FSI is a healthy couponing vehicle, said Gallaher of CMS. At a time when consumers are increasingly seeking value, the FSI fills a need for consumers who are planning their shopping trips.
"People who may not have been regular coupon users before, now are," Gallaher noted.
One advantage of grouping brands is that it creates an affinity for brands and an incentive to buy them.
Along with focusing on their own family of brands, marketers are adding value to their coupon initiatives by partnering with non-competing products.
A handful of such alliances were found in a freestanding insert mailing two weeks ago. Among them: Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., teamed with the Clorox Co., Oakland, Calif., for a full-page FSI that co-promoted Tyson chicken and Hidden Valley dressing from Clorox.
Three coupons were offered: 55 cents on any frozen Tyson boxed chicken item; 75 cents on any Tyson family-pack bag; and 75 cents on any Hidden Valley bottled dressing, 16 ounces or larger.
"Serve Tyson Chicken with Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing for a taste they'll really love," the FSI editorial read, in part.
Marketers are drawing attention to coupon offers in other ways. For instance, several are offering free products with the purchase of multiple items.
Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., and Hershey Foods Corp., Hershey, Pa., did just that with an offer for free milk (any brand, up to $1.50) with the purchase of two packages of Kellogg's Pop-Tarts "Snak-Stix," plus one bottle of Hershey's Syrup, 18 ounces or larger. The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., took a similar approach, but instead of partnering with another manufacturer, it offered free milk on its own. Consumers could use the FSI coupon to get free milk (up to $2) with the purchase of any three Pepperidge Farm products.