builds awareness offline

It has been heralded as the most important communications advance since the 15th century. It is an enormous electronic nervous system that encircles the globe, bridging linguistic and cultural barriers that once seemed unconquerable. Its power to transmit huge volumes of...

It has been heralded as the most important communications advance since the 15th century. It is an enormous electronic nervous system that encircles the globe, bridging linguistic and cultural barriers that once seemed unconquerable. Its power to transmit huge volumes of information in an eye-blink has vanquished both time and distance, and opened the door for intellectual and commercial exchange between people on opposite sides of the world – people who might otherwise not even have known of each other’s existence.

It is, in short, the perfect vehicle for distributing coupons.

OK, nobody’s going to pretend that e-coupon sites like represent the full realization of the Internet’s vast potential. But in its own modest way, online couponing is helping to further the evolution of the medium, by giving smaller businesses – such as local retailers and service providers – an opportunity to find out what it can do for them.

‘Fortune 500 companies obviously have the resources to create e-commerce sites and the like,’ says Al Szajman, vice-president, marketing with, the Vancouver-based company that created ‘But the dot-com wave seemed to be passing by the small to medium-sized businesses, whether due to lack of time, lack of expertise or lack of funds. Offering online coupons [that can be redeemed at their bricks-and-mortar locations] is a way that those businesses can take advantage of the Net, and turn surfers into shoppers.’

A ‘portal’ site offering coupons for everything from spark plugs to shoe repairs, has grown rapidly in popularity. In addition to serving markets in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., it has expanded into the U.S., Hong Kong and Australia, and has plans to invade Japan and Mainland China as well. Barely a year old, has already grown from a small handful of personnel to nearly 140 staffers.

Like most newfangled dot-com enterprises, has faced the challenge of building brand recognition in the offline world. And like most newfangled dot-com enterprises, has tackled that challenge in the old-fashioned way: with advertising in traditional, offline media.

In this particular case, newspaper forms a linchpin of the media strategy. Attracted by the broad reach, flexibility and fast turnaround times of the medium, has maintained a fairly consistent presence in newspaper since the fall, Szajman says. And that will continue, even as the advertising budget grows, and other media such as television begin to play a more important role in the mix.

At the outset, of course, it was a more basic consideration that brought into newspaper: cost. When sat down last spring with its agency, Vancouver-based Palmer Jarvis DDB, to plan a launch campaign, the company didn’t have a lot of money to throw around. ‘Based on PMB research, newspaper seemed to be a good medium for reaching surfers,’ Szajman recalls. ‘And it was an opportunity to get a fairly loud voice with a relatively inexpensive budget.’

‘Broad reach was key,’ affirms Darlene Hartmann, account director with Palmer Jarvis DDB. ‘We needed to get the e-coupon phenomenon in front of consumers and start building awareness, both for the category as a whole, and for [] as the lead player within that category.’

The initial three-week launch campaign in June, which ran in the Vancouver and Toronto markets, consisted of simple newspaper banner ads. A more ambitious awareness effort, featuring full-page and page-dominant ads, kicked off in September. (The fall campaign also featured outdoor, radio and online banner ads.)

These ads (created by copywriter Paul Little and senior art director Cosmo Campbell) play simple text against strong black-and-white images to convey the essence of’s positioning: ‘Coupons online for just about anything.’

One, for example, features a photograph of a seagull, and the line ’20% off dry cleaning.’ The text is surrounded by the traditional graphic representation of the clip-and-save coupon: a dotted line and scissors. Others follow the same format: a shot of doctors in an operating room, with the line ’12% off sewing lessons’; an image of a completely bare room, with an offer for ‘free burglar alarm installation,’ and so on.

Szajman – a former vice-president, account director at PJDDB who left the agency last year to take over as’s head of marketing – says the print work is intended not just to communicate the benefits of, but to cultivate an engaging brand image: friendly, helpful and just a little on the clever side.

‘Obviously, when you target people who are looking to save money, there’s a real practical side to them,’ he says. ‘But even practical people like to have a smile on their faces. What this advertising does is get people’s attention and give us a chance to make them understand that we’re relevant to their lives.’

Trevor McConnell, vice-president, creative director with PJDDB, echoes this view. ‘Coupons are one of the most traditional, old-fashioned marketing and advertising vehicles. So we’re taking something that is well known and tired, and putting it into an unexpectedly fresh and contemporary context. And we’re trying to do it in a way that is engaging and funny, and that gives people something to talk about.’

This winter has brought a further shift in the newspaper strategy. In an effort to sustain awareness, has launched a series of additional flights in the Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary markets; each has kicked off with one of the large-format ads to garner attention, followed by a succession of small-space ads – as many as eight to 10 insertions a week.

‘What we’re doing [with the small-space ads] is trying to build some frequency cost-effectively, and maximize the potential reach of newspaper,’ Hartmann says.

These smaller-format ads are designed to play off the content of the specific editorial sections in which they run. One that has appeared in the stock market pages, for example, features the headline ’15% off fortune-telling services’ and the tag ‘Coupons online for just about any investment advice.’ Another, which has been placed in lifestyle sections, promotes ’25% off new carpet,’ with the tag, ‘Coupons online for just about anything for pets.’

As expands into the U.S. and foreign markets, its strategy will remain essentially the same. Palmer Jarvis DDB will be responsible for maintaining the overall integrity of the brand, and will develop the actual creative for as many markets as is feasible. (One exception is Hong Kong where, to ensure cultural relevance, the advertising is being handled by DDB’s local office.)

One significant hitch arose during the planning of the brand’s recent rollout in Seattle. Szajman says The Seattle Times and its sister publication, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, declined to run’s advertising, citing a concern that the e-coupon portal could steal away revenues from them.

‘They told us, ‘Hey, we carry flyers with coupons, and people run in-ad coupons in our paper,” he says. ‘We pointed out that they also run TV listings, which help send people to another medium. But they dug in their heels.’

Newspapers shouldn’t view the e-coupon phenomenon as a competitive threat, Szajman argues, but rather as an opportunity. Ultimately, he predicts, most papers will either align themselves with e-coupon sites, or leverage their long-standing experience in the couponing business to create portal sites of their own. has earmarked more than $6 million to advertise the service in Canada this year – roughly 100 times the budget for the original launch campaign last June. And newspaper will remain an integral part of the media strategy, along with billboards, bus exteriors, online advertising and television. (The company’s first foray into TV – a series of six 15-second spots – hit the airwaves Feb. 21.)

While online advertising activity grows in volume and sophistication every day, the marketing strategies of dot-coms will continue to rely heavily on traditional media such as newspaper, Szajman predicts.

‘If you want to talk to people and make your brand truly relevant to them, then you have to try to be part of their lives,’ he says. ‘And people have lives offline as well as online.’

Also in this report:

- Launch of Post good news for advertisers: Upstart daily has jump-started the industry, prompting offers of better rates, bonus ads and new loyalty programs p.NP3

- Stop the presses: Dailies are changing: No longer acting as simple order-takers p.NP4

- Picture perfect: It’s obvious that visually driven creative works well in newspaper. So why don’t more advertisers use it? NP5

- Telcos reward readers with a laugh: MTT and Bell Mobility employ unusual formats to nab attention p.NP6

- Cadillac takes the long view: Used frequency of newspaper creatively by telling a different story every week p.NP10

- Edmonton Journal: Time for a change: Daily goes for a facelift p.NP10

- Whistler taps fast turnaround times: Newspaper lets ski resort react quickly to changing circumstances p.NP13

- Talvest co-brands funds with FP Index: Helped Montreal financial services provider to crack Ontario market p.NP14

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group