Publicity Stunt Will Scatter Ad-Bearing Quarters in Minneapolis

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- In a promotional stunt that uses U.S. currency as a vehicle for marketing messages, an online coupon service is sticking circular ads on the reverse side of
Photo: Hoag Levins
Boodle is putting sticker ads on 16,000 U.S. quarters.
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16,000 quarters it plans to scatter around Minneapolis.

Boodle, owned by San Diego-based Consumer Networks, will distribute $4,000 worth of quarters in vending machine change dispensers, pay telephone slots, and on the street over the next few weeks to publicize its service.

Second time
It is the second time a marketer has attempted to use money as an advertising medium. The first known instance occurred back in January when agencies for the USA Networks affixed peel-off ads to the backs of 50,000 one-dollar bills to promote the miniseries Traffic.

Boodle said the sticker ads it is placing on quarters are removable to avoid damaging U.S. currency -- an illegal action. The ads include the Boodle tagline -- "Money acquired in unconventional ways" -- and the Web site of a local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune (

Lesley Howe, CEO of Consumer Networks, said the quarters will be placed in locations where office workers and other employed people regularly go. When asked whether homeless and others without means to access computers for the coupons might pick up the spare change, he said, "I hope that's not what happens."

'Very creative'
Ken Harris, a partner in Cannondale Associates, an Evanston, Ill.-based strategic marketing and sales consulting firm, called the Boodle tactic "very creative" and noted that consumers picking up the quarters already will have gotten "their money's worth."

However, he said, Boodle will get its 25 cents worth if the story is picked up by newscasters. "The target audience definitely is watching the news, and if it goes national, they've spent only $4,000 in quarters," he said. "It can't lose even if they get negative publicity."

The Boodle campaign, from MDC Partners-backed Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, also includes outdoor, wild postings and a large stencil of a scissors on dotted traffic lines on city streets. Tim Roper, vice president and creative director of Crispin Porter, said a second campaign will be tested in Cincinnati, but without the quarters, before the program is rolled out nationwide.

245 newspapers
Boodle has agreements with 245 newspapers to provide online coupons on each paper's Web site, so visitors can print out coupons and take them to retailers for redemption. General Mills and General Electric Co. are among the marketers whose coupons are offered on Boodle newspaper Web sites. Newspapers involved in the program are from the Gannett Co., Tribune Co., and Knight Ridder groups and have a potential reach, through newspaper portals, of over 50 million unique monthly visitors, according to Boodle.

Online couponing has not taken off as quickly as once predicted, in part because of the problem of fraud. Even with technological safeguards now in place, marketers still are having trouble getting consumers to look online for coupons, Mr. Howe said. "It's been much slower than anybody thought," he said. "Changing behavior is difficult to do."

In 2003, about 86% of all coupons were distributed through Sunday newspaper supplements, according to marketing services firm Valassis. Less than 1% of coupons are derived from online sources, a Valassis spokeswoman said.

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