CAROL WRIGHT HEATS UP COUPON WAR

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Carol Wright, whose face has graced Donnelley Marketing's direct mail coupon programs for more than 20 years, has a new, competitive gleam in her eye.

Hammered last year by rising competition and pricing pressures, the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Carol Wright program has recently gotten a face-lift and this year is testing new distribution channels.

In addition to its traditional mailings of co-op coupons and promotions to 30 million consumers 10 times yearly, a promotional test of the program is under way this year on the Prodigy computer online service. No results are available yet for the effort, which alerts users to Carol Wright offerings.

Carol Wright will also be promoted on cable TV in coming months, and the company is "looking into a variety of other ways of getting our message out to consumers" as part of a new marketing initiative, said Karen Schreiner, group director of co-op services for Stamford, Conn.-based Donnelley.

A veteran of the business-to-business direct marketing field, Ms. Schreiner joined Donnelley last year with the mission of making the Carol Wright program "a more versatile and informative tool" for consumers while broadening its awareness through new media channels.

The company also hopes to better exploit synergies between the Carol Wright program and Donnelley's extensive database management efforts for clients including Kraft General Foods, Procter & Gamble Co., Pizza Hut, Sprint and Toys "R" Us, Ms. Schreiner said.

The moves come amid intensive new competition in the field of co-op coupons and promotions. Ominous to direct mail coupon providers are newly aggressive efforts by newspapers whose delivery channels bypass the U.S. Postal Service to efficiently bring promotional materials directly to consumers' doors, industry insiders say.

Most devastating was last year's price war among providers of newspaper free standing inserts; that battle drove down the cost of offering coupons through newspapers vs. direct mail channels, dampening activity for direct mail couponers.

Valassis Inserts and News America were forced to drop their prices for FSI-based coupons when rival Sullivan Marketing entered the fray; the newcomer has since been acquired by News America, but FSI prices remain "depressed," said a Valassis spokeswoman, keeping price competition alive.

"It's been a tough year for direct mail couponing with the business under much more pressure than ever from a wider variety of competitors including newspapers," said David Stigner, public relations director of direct marketing promotions giant Advo, Windsor, Conn.

Advo has responded by "simplifying and consolidating" its offerings, but Donnelley is going in the opposite direction by adding more options to the Carol Wright program.

Starting in May, Carol Wright mailings were redesigned, with the housewifely image of Ms. Wright much reduced and relegated to one corner of each envelope. Envelopes now sport more generic, seasonal themes, supported by informative lifestyle and entertaining tips included among the coupons and co-op marketing offers inside.

Marketers are also being offered the option of having their logos and brands incorporated into the envelope design in an attention-getting look linked to a seasonal event, Ms. Schreiner said.

A major marketer is expected to sign on for the envelope design of one of Carol Wright's biggest-ever holiday mailings in December, she said.

The company this spring also tested the mailing of post cards to millions of households alerting them to "look for your coupon package coming soon."

Results of the post card effort weren't available, but Ms. Schreiner said it's similar to "other efforts we plan to use to forewarn consumers of our mailings."

An estimated $1 million business-to-business campaign is planned, handled by database marketing agency Jacobs & Clevenger, Chicago; marketing communications company Momentum, Boston, designs all Carol Wright materials.

Kate Fitzgerald coordinates Promotion Marketing News.

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