The History of Coupons

Sunday, October 10, 2010

While the use of demonstrations, freebies, and giveaways in order to drum up business, retain clientele, and promote a product or service has been around for centuries, coupons are a marketing strategy that have really only evolved in the past hundred years (give or take). This is largely due to the fact that prior to the turn of the 20th century, most businesses catered solely to a local market. While it was not unheard of to find products from other cities and states (or even overseas), it was simply easier and less expensive to buy within the local community, from friends, neighbors, and local retailers. In short, most industry was of the cottage variety. This was a time when barter was still an acceptable and widespread form of currency. It wasn’t until the advent of the automobile and the ease of travel it precipitated that mass production and delivery of retail goods began to supplant home-grown (so to speak) and the spread of print media to citizens across the country became feasible.

Nationwide circulation of publications, chain-style retail stores, and branded products all played a role in the advent of coupons. And not surprisingly, it began with Coca-Cola. The company that has a long-standing tradition of catering to customers and creating beloved products really got its first big push because of the advertising genius displayed a man named Asa Candler, who was one of the company’s early partners. His innovative ideas for marketing included mailing coupons to potential customers as well as placing them in the pages of various publications, offering one free coke for each coupon. Although the company ultimately handed out millions of free colas to happy recipients, it wasn’t long before they became a household name. And as they say, the rest is history.

Of course, that kind of success doesn’t come without its copycats, and within a few years the concept began to take off. Notably, Post Cereal began offering discount coupons to customers who already purchased their products. But the public didn’t really latch onto coupon usage in a big way until the Depression era, when everyone suddenly found themselves in desperate money situations. In short, the tables turned. While coupons had primarily been a marketing scheme before, they now became a necessity for most people, so that companies who weren’t offering coupons couldn’t hope to compete with those that were. And by the time the Depression had ended, so many people had made a habit of clipping coupons that it simply continued. Although of course, most people who lived through that time continue to employ money-saving practices to this day.

By mid-century, clearing houses for coupons were formed and the concept that Coca-Cola started as a simple advertising tactic became an entire industry unto itself. A national coupon month was established in the United States in 1988 (in the month of September), and with new avenues of communication (namely the internet) came improved methods of coupon distribution (i.e. the advent of coupon codes). An industry that grew from one man’s simple idea to popularize his brand has grown exponentially over the last hundred years. Now, consumers can find a coupon for almost any product, a situation that not only helps companies to drive sales and build a brand image, but also ensures that customers continue to try new products and ultimately, take part in an economic system that is driven by consumerism.

Kyle Simpson writes for Home Equity Loan which aims to inform individuals about different loan options and what each option entails.

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