Where Are the Coupons on the Web?

By: Steve Outing

While finally combing through a pile of materials collected at the Internet World conference in Boston in late October, I unearthed a flyer I picked up from e-Coupons, a small start-up in New York City. After taking a look at its Web site, I began to wonder why there aren't more coupons on newspapers' online services.

Check out a handful of publishers' Web sites and you'll most likely find that advertisements are of the standard, dull variety -- a hyperlinked icon or company logo that points to the advertiser's home page. I've seen only a handful of publishers include coupons as part of an online advertising strategy.

Promotional coupons offering discounts on products and services represent a concept that should be right at home in cyberspace. So why aren't more advertisers using the online medium experimenting with coupons? Well, using online as an advertising vehicle is so new, many of them probably haven't thought through how best to get their message across to computer users.

Publishers who merely sell an advertiser a hyperlink logo plunked onto an online news page are doing the advertiser -- and themselves -- a disservice. While advertisers will over time become more savvy about how to make online placements work for them, at this early stage of the industry it's important for publishers to lend their expertise to make sure online advertisements have an impact -- if they want their advertisers to stick around for the long term. Offering discount coupons -- that the user merely has to print out and take to the store -- is a great way to get more people to click on an advertiser's online area. And the advertiser can be sure that if a consumer clicks on her coupon, that most likely means the coupon clipper is going to use it.

Let's face it, an ad that says "Visit Joe's Grocery" is not going to get as many user clicks as one that says "$5 off your next bag of groceries." If your online advertisers aren't using coupons, contests and other promotional techniques to grab customers, then a) educate them on how to make better use of the online medium, or b) set up your own "Coupon Clipping Area" and invite advertisers to take part.

e-Coupons is a good example of how this concept can work. It is targeting the college market, getting merchants who sell to college students -- both nationally (U.S.) and locally (it is introducing local coupon services in selected markets) -- to put discount coupons on its central Web site. A user goes to the e-Coupons site, selects his city, then sees a list of categories. Click on "auto services" and find coupons for a few dollars off a tune-up at your local repair shop, for example. (e-Coupons makes its money from charging marketers a fee of between 50 and 95 cents per lead generated. It also compiles a database of its users, profiling demographic and product usage information, from which it can tailor promotions -- creating unique HTML pages on the fly -- aimed at a demographically select list of consumers.)

e-Coupons is trying to partner with publishers, and it's probably worth your time to give them a call (tel. 212-996-5911) to see what they can offer. But cyberspace coupons are a concept easily implemented on a publisher's own site. It's in your best interest to make online advertising work, especially if you expect advertising to bring in the lion's share of revenues to support your online service. Setting up a central Coupon Clipping Area on your site also can serve to bring in additional revenues, by attracting new advertisers who haven't considered the online experience to be attractive until now.

Interactive publishing history project needs help

University of Florida at Gainesville Ph.D. student Bill Johnstone is busy at work creating a hypertext history of interactive media, to be posted on the World Wide Web in or around February 1996. Since this should be of great interest to many of you, Johnstone and his supervisor, UF Interactive Media Lab director David Carlson, could use your help in seeing the project to completion.

Johnstone and Carlson are looking for information and screen shots from several older interactive media projects. Still needed:

* Information about a videotext system called "Iris." They have slides of the service, but lack information about it.
* Screen shots from the "Telidon" videotex system (Canada, late 1970s).
* Screen shots from the "Captain" videotex system (Japan, late 1970s).
* Older screen shots of the French "Minitel" videotex system, and screen shots of the "Antiope" teletext system from the mid 1970s in France.
* Screen shots from the "Gateway" videotex service (by Videotex America, a subsidiary of Times-Mirror, in the early-mid 1980s).
* Screen shots of the "Keyfax" videotex service by Centel (Tribune Co.).
* Information and screen shots of "Trintex," the videotex predecessor of Prodigy.

If you have information, screen shots or slides from any of these services squirreled away in your files, please let Dave Carlson know at gigabit@ufl.edu (or phone 904-846-0171).

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com


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