Snagging share with free food

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With so many enticing messages bombarding consumers in food advertising, how does one pick a product? Some recent magazine ads make it easy to decide: the one that's free.

Hershey Foods Corp. includes a free coupon in recent launch ads for its Reese's FastBreak candy bar. Masterfoods USA includes one for its reformulated 3 Musketeers bar. And Kraft Foods extends an offer for free Ritz crackers with the purchase of four other Kraft products in an ad touting its spring "Win free groceries" promotion.

Food marketers are employing the tactic more of late as a way to drive advertising effectiveness amid heated share battles. Free coupons represented 2.8% of consumer package-goods coupons distributed in 2001, up from 2.5% in 2000, according to NCH Marketing Services.

The barrier of entry in a category like candy bars, where top brands have changed little in recent years, is too high to resort to the usual marketing tactics, especially when the "opportunity for success is less than ever before," said Mike Shinall, managing director of Meridian Consulting Group.

Masterfoods' ad touts the "new better chocolate taste" of its 3 Musketeers with a free coupon for consumers to taste the improvement themselves. It was done by WPP Group-backed Uniworld Group, New York, and follows the success of a similar effort on behalf of its Snickers Cruncher last year.

increasingly prevalent

"We feel that we can get the message right in print advertising, but ensuring that it breaks through ... and converts to purchase is the challenge-and having a coupon helps," said Chris Jones, marketing director, chocolate business-development team at Masterfoods. Free coupons within magazine ads are increasingly prevalent for the company, he said.

In response, Hershey likewise employed free coupons in its Reese's FastBreak campaign, trying to make a dent in Masterfoods' ownership of the $416 million nougat segment with its leading Snickers brand as well as Milky Way and 3 Musketeers. Hershey declined to comment.

Outside of direct share battles, other marketers, such as Kraft, hope a free-product coupon will send consumers to its retail promotional displays. "Free coupons in magazines are effective at getting people in-store, getting them involved and excited about the promotion," said a Kraft spokeswoman.

While food marketers continue to use newspaper inserts, magazine coupons "provide a little more intrusiveness, a call to action and have a level of measurement, and it doesn't cost anything beyond the redemption," said Jack Brown, president of JLB Co-Marketing Consulting.

Though ad volume in free-standing inserts fell roughly 2% last year, they account for more than 80% of coupons distributed, according to a spokeswoman for FSI distributor Valassis Communications.

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