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

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.