Category Archives: Advertising

Promotion and publicity: Why I’m the &%$@!#* coupon queen and how you can be one, too

During my last trip to Kroger, I got $71.79 worth of groceries for $30.98.

25 items—all ones I like and won’t waste—at an average cost of $1.24 each.

I’m the Coupon Queen. It’s a terrifying, exciting spectacle to behold. And I’m here to say that if you shop regularly at Kroger, and you don’t use coupons, you’re being crazy with your money.

(Why Kroger? Given my current city of residence and based on three-plus years of shopping around at each available area retailer, Kroger is my favorite because of selection, location, and they double coupons up to 50 cents.)

Coupons are among the most traditional sales promos in marketing: manufacturer’s coupons for food and non-edibles; “one time only” department store coupons; free DVD player coupon with the purchase of car. Some are worthwhile, and some just serve as silly bait to draw in customers.

Manufacturers use coupons for promotion of an item and may sometimes work with retailers to slightly increase the price of a product. While consumers still save, manufacturers don’t “lose” as much. And retailers don’t lose anything, as far as money. If you’ll notice on your coupons, there’s a note to the retailer with instructions for sending them back to the manufacturer for reimbursement. (It would be interesting to see statistics for retailers doing the work to get their money back. I bet those coupons are transported in armored cars!)

So how did I get my groceries for almost 60 percent off? Here are my rules:

  • Seek out coupons: Sunday newspapers, magazines, coupon Web sites, product Web sites (I’ll list my favorite coupon Web sites below)
  • Before you go into the store, pull out the coupons you want to use for only the items you need (saves time in the store AND it helps you stick to your list)
  • At the same time, take all your coupons inside the store, just in case there’s a fantastic deal on an item you don’t need, but you kind of want to try and you know you’ll use, and it’s so cheap you have to buy it. Just keep separate stacks. But you rarely dip into this second stack.
  • Make time for shopping: I spent 1.5 hours buying 25 items. I realize not everyone has the luxury of such browsing, but if you really want to save money, you’re going to have to find the time.
  • In order to really save, you have to purchase items that are on sale AND that you have a coupon for. Example: a few weeks ago, a brand of 12-grain bread was 3 loaves/$5. I just needed one at $1.67/loaf. I had a 50-cent coupon, doubled, and I got my loaf of bread for $0.67. Yummy.

For this recent trip, I used manufacturer’s coupons and my Kroger card, of course. In addition, Kroger was having a promotion within their store: mix and match 10 participating items and get $5 off your entire order (50 cents off each of the 10 items). Oh, and don’t forget, coupons up to 50 cents are doubled.

Let’s break my shopping cart down:
*note: even among remembering coupon values, doing math late at night and deciphering my receipt, the margin of error for the figures below still is pretty minimal.

4 – 24 oz bottles of Propel water (2 black cherry, 2 peach mango)
On sale with Kroger card: .99/bottle
Mix and match promo: .49/bottle
Manufacturer’s coupon:  -1.00/4 bottles
Final cost: $0.24/bottle

1 box Nabisco Wheat Thins Artisan Crackers (Vermont white cheddar)
On sale with Kroger card: $2.20
Mix and match promo: $1.70
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$1.00/box
Final cost: $0.70

1 bag Farm Rich frozen cheese sticks
On sale with Kroger card: $4.49
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$1.00
Final cost: $3.49

3 bags Valley Fresh Steamers frozen vegetables
On sale with Kroger Card: $1.99/bag
Mix and match promo: $1.49/bag
Manufacturer’s coupon:  -$1.00/3 bags
Final cost: $1.16/bag

2 Reach toothbrushes (pink and green, medium bristle)
On sale with Kroger card: $2.49/toothbrush
Manufacturer’s coupon: Buy one get one free
Final cost: $1.25/toothbrush

1 bag Solo plastic cups (30-count)
On sale with Kroger card: $1.99
Mix and match promo: $1.49
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$.75
Final cost: $0.74

2 boxes Orville Redenbacher popcorn (light butter)
On sale with Kroger card: $2.99/box
Mix and match promo: $2.49/box
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$1.00/2 boxes
Final cost: $1.99/box

2 Kraft cheeses (medium cheddar, Colby Jack & Monterey)
On sale with Kroger card: $1.99/package
Mix and match promo: $1.49/package
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$1.00/2 packages
Final cost: $0.99/package

2 Healthy Choice microwavable soups (chicken tortilla)
On sale with Kroger card: 2 for $4
Final cost: $2/bowl

Healthy Choice frozen dinner (chicken alfredo florentine)
On sale with Kroger card: $1.88
Manufacturer’s coupon: buy 2 Healthy Choice soups (above), get 1 frozen dinner free
Final cost: free

1 box Gorton’s grilled tilapia
On sale with Kroger card: $3.79
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$.50 (double: -$.50)
Final cost: $2.79

1 can Hormel white chicken chili
Kroger sale price: $1.34
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$1.00
Final cost: $0.34

2 bags Chex Mix snack (sour cream and onion, honey nut)
On sale with Kroger card: $1.99/bag
Mix and match promo: $1.49/bag
Manufacturer’s coupon:-$.50/2 bags (double: -$.50)
Final cost: $0.99/bag

1 loaf of Rustic Pugliese bakery bread
On sale with Kroger card: 2 for $5
Manufacturer’s coupon: -$1.00/1 loaf
Final cost: $1.50

Cost: $1.00

Obviously this shopping trip wasn’t an absolutely critical one. Also, I didn’t need items like veggies and fruit, for which coupons are rarely available. I purchase groceries every 1.5 to 2 weeks, and on average, I save at least 40% using coupons and my Kroger card. It takes time and dedication. But it’s addictive. And worth it. What am I going to do with the $40 I saved? Do this again in about two weeks!

My favorite coupon Web sites:

1) upload coupons to your Kroger card – no paper! Keep note of which coupons you have
2) choose and print
3) choose and print
4) choose and print
5) Proctor & Gamble used to allow you to print coupons online, but people like me probably ruined it for everyone. But, you can still go online and preview what will be in the Sunday paper in your area!
6) you can upload coupons on your Kroger card directly from their site
7) upload to Kroger card


Advertising: Is Diet Coke as classy as it wants us to believe?

Last summer, my partner and I spent a long weekend in Miami, and we ate at a fantastic Indian restaurant (bad, bad service, awesome food). After wandering around South Beach for hours (including a half-mile trek in the sand), I was super thirsty, and at the restaurant I ordered a water and a Diet Coke. I just had one of those cravings.

Later that night, while talking about the restaurant, my partner mentioned something about “ordering a Diet Coke in a classy restaurant.” That is, he was pointing out the unclassiness of ordering a Diet Coke at an expensive, sit-down, nice establishment.


I hadn’t given his pronouncement much thought until I recently saw a commercial for Diet Coke, in which Tom Colicchio, famous New York chef and judge on Bravo’s Top Chef series, told me it was okay to order a Diet Coke in a classy restaurant.


“When it comes to taste, it’s important to know the difference between being sophisticated and, uh, whatever that is…,” says Colicchio in the opening of the commercial, as he watches a waiter at an upscale restaurant bring a woman an entrée most would call “fancy.”

“You don’t have to overcomplicate it,” Colicchio continues, as he sits down at the bar. The bartender pours a Diet Coke into a glass for him. “No gimmicks, no fads…just keep it simple. Because when you start with good taste, you don’t need anything else. ”

Diet Coke is attempting three major things: 1) to draw in customers from the higher-echelon, foodie segment; 2) to tell current customers Diet Coke isn’t just for those drive-through Styrofoam cups, and 3) to tell men it’s okay for them to drink Diet Coke. (We’ll just focus on the first two.)

The marketing strategy at work here is fantastic. Diet Coke has determined a segment of the population it isn’t currently serving and that their research has shown might be receptive to and perhaps benefit from its product.

In addition, the long-term goals here are lofty and profitable: if people begin craving a Diet Coke with any type of meal, consumer demand might encourage restaurants who don’t sell soft drinks now to do so in the future. And this, of course, increases Diet Coke’s sales in the restaurant segment.

But will any of this advertising work? Except for that one time in Miami (no, really), I normally order a glass of water or wine at a nice restaurant. This isn’t uncommon by any means, and because my curiosity was piqued, I explored the drinking habits of fellow Diet Cokers I found.

*Editor’s note: for the context of these purposes, “fast-food restaurant” is defined as an establishment like McDonalds or Taco Bell; “sit-down restaurant” is defined as an establishment like Applebee’s or O’Charley’s; and “fine-dining restaurant” is defined as, well, none of the major chains, the food is excellent, a bit pricey, and you feel you should dress up when you go.

Sarah* is a self-proclaimed Diet Coke drinker who has one to two cans or glasses a day. When she visits fast-food restaurants and sit-down restaurants, she’s been known to order a Diet Coke. However, she says, “I usually drink wine at fine dining establishments.” Ah, my partner would like her.

Jane, also a Diet Coker, only drinks it from cans or 20-oz bottles (one or two a day). But she only drinks water when eating out, no matter what type of restaurant it is.

A gal who has two to three Diet Cokes a week, Elizabeth orders only Diet Coke at fast-food restaurants, rarely at sit-down restaurants and never at fine-dining restaurants.

Sheila “hardly ever” has a Diet Coke. Hardly ever as in probably once or twice a year.

And when Nicole has a Diet Coke, which is maybe once every two months (and even then, that’s stretching it), it’s just at a fast-food restaurant. “Or at a bar mixed with some rum!”

Ann concurs. She’s been “Diet Coke free for two years,” but admits: “The only way to drink Diet Coke is with rum.”

And finally, we have what Diet Coke might consider its ideal customer: Mary, a Diet Coker, who, though she’s cut back from three to four a day to one a day, has been known to drink Diet Coke at each of the three different types of establishments.

A total of 12 individuals responded to my survey (11 females, 1 male). I know, not exactly scientific, but you have to admit, it has been fun.

Of those 12:

  • 2 drink absolutely no soft drinks
  • One prefers Diet Pepsi
  • Another prefers Diet Dr. Pepper
  • One is a former, recovering Diet Coke drinker
  • Two rarely drink soft drinks, but when they do, they choose Diet Coke
  • One tolerates the taste of Diet Coke for weight-loss reasons
  • Four out of 12 people surveyed consider themselves regular-basis Diet Coke drinkers

And now for the final stat of the survey: of those who consider themselves regular-basis Diet Coke drinkers, only one of them admits to drinking the beverage in a fine-dining establishment.


According to my unscientific survey, Diet Coke has definitely pinpointed a market. And whether they can beat out wine and water (among women) to become a favorite option at fine-dining establishments, well, that may be a challenge. I suggest Diet Coke narrow its goals down to one: encouraging current drinkers to drink it anywhere and everywhere. Just don’t bring a Styrofoam take-out cup into a fine-dining establishment.

*names were changed to protect Diet Cokers!

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Advertising: Guilty: I’ve Started Doing the Herbal

Herbal Essences hair-care products have been around since at least the 1960s, and I started noticing them during my early teens (in the mid-1990s) when I was first testing my independence: shaving my legs (with a real razor!), using makeup (sneaking it on with a girlfriend on the morning bus), and choosing the products that I thought defined me as a “woman.”

And of course, who didn’t notice the commercials with women having orgasmic shampooing experiences in the shower?

Herbal Essences products, to me, seemed somehow exotic. My mom didn’t use them; she bought the lower-priced brands, the brands her mom used. During store visits I’d open the flip-top Herbal Essences bottle and inhale what I thought was the scent of high-end, quality shampoo that I never got to use. Those wildflower-covered bottles defined “adult” and “fancy” for me.

Now, looking back, I honestly don’t know what the price of an Herbal Essences product was nearly 15 years ago. What I remember is my perception of their value—which was high—simply because a) my mom didn’t buy the brand, and I assumed it was because it was too expensive, and b) the shampoos and conditioners just smelled so damn good.

[At that time, a woman making orgasm sounds really didn’t affect me all that much. Except that I noticed my mom chuckled every time one of those commercials came on.]

Over the years, from then until now, I haven’t given much thought to Herbal Essences products. The hair-care market today provides consumers with what author Robert Walker calls “The Pretty Good Problem.” In his 2008 book Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, Walker says that once upon a time, the challenge for the consumer was navigating a world of faulty, shoddy or unsafe products.

This is obviously no longer the case.

“Most products on the market today are pretty good,” Walker say in his book. “So then the consumer must determine which is the very best of all, by absurdly small margins.”

Brand loyalty often wanes as saturation increases. But Walker says that brand loyalty, albeit decreasing, offers hope for “The Pretty Good Problem.”

“Having a successful brand solves this problem,” Walker writes. “Consumers then choose a product because of the brand—the story it tells and the consumer’s feeling toward it and the community it represents.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask) we go through several brands, choose one for a while, and then move on to the next new item to hit shelves.

I may start to consider settling down. It all began with (surprise!) word of mouth marketing. A friend told me about Herbal Essences’ “tousle me softly” product line she recently began using. She loved what the mousse did to her hair and how it made her hair smell. Women are very particular about how their hair smells.

Then I saw The Commercial (the one at the top of this post  linked to here). The Herbal Essences commercial that changed my life (or at least the shampoo and conditioner currently in my shower).

First of all, I instantly fell in love with the woman in the commercial. She’s me, she’s my friends. She woke up one morning, washed her hair and became a rock star.

Advertising 101, Lesson 1: Viewers need reasons to engage with and root for the subjects (not just the products) in any advertisement (think celebrity endorsements). Done.

Second, Herbal Essences’ tagline comes at the end of the commercial, as our girl (whose hair appears oh so bouncy and healthy) is rocking out on stage. The scene cuts to her at home, standing on a chair, playing air guitar. She’s in a world by herself. The voiceover says, coyly, “Clearly, someone’s been doing the herbal.” And our girl smiles into the camera and raises her eyebrows with a look that can only say…”Yep! Guilty!” She’s adorable.

Advertising 101, Lesson 2: Make your tagline brilliant and memorable. Done.

Yet…I’m not quite sold. But I can’t get our girl out of my head. Next time I’m at a store, I find myself in the hair-care aisle, staring at the Herbal Essences options.

I don’t need any hair-care products: at home, I have exactly two shampoos, six conditioners, and four 2-in-1 products (full or otherwise). I decide to compromise and get another 2-in-1 bottle, but the line I want (“dangerously straight”) isn’t available in that option. I stick with my rationalization that I don’t need two separate bottles, and I leave. But not before inhaling some “none of your frizzness” and “no flakin’ way.”

Fast forward a few weeks. It’s Saturday night, it’s around midnight, and I find myself with a friend at another store, browsing, filling up our shopping cart with things we really don’t need.

Hair-care aisle, again. Herbal Essences’ product line is before me, again. I peruse, I flip, I smell. Then I see what I hadn’t noticed a few weeks ago. A line of shampoo and conditioner formulated, so it says, for long hair.

I’m growing my hair out. And it smells like red raspberry. I love raspberries. The label asks, “who loves ya, baby?” I bet you do, Herbal Essences. Into the shopping cart they go. Three shampoos, seven conditioners, and no rationalizing.

[Although I did only spend around $5 all together on both products.]

Herbal Essences has redesigned the image of their hair-care products to attract a hip, image- and budget-conscious, fun market. Their demographic is obviously women, but as far as the type of woman targeted, all are being reached and influenced. (There’s a 20-year age difference between myself and my friend whose WOM first influenced me, in addition to educational, income and marital status differences).

And for this marketer, there’s another level to this. I’m not often taken by a commercial, and when I am, it’s exciting.

Our girl and our tagline thrill me – the combination is an advertising coup for a product whose market is so saturated there’s not much left to say about it. It’s edgy and a bit risqué. And I generally love any reference to anyone obviously “doing the herbal.”

On an even more personal level, I imagine the marketers who came up with this redesign and advertising campaign must have a lot in common with me. I mean, how else would they know just how to get me to buy two more bottles of something I don’t need? (I’m being facetious; but please don’t dash my fantasy by informing me this was created by 30-something men straight out of B-school.)

I hope it’s clear that I, too, am doing the herbal. And that maybe I’ve found a product that really feels and smells like me. That understands what I’m looking for in a personal care item. And helps me find my inner rock star. Or that makes me happy enough to stick with it for a while.

Advertising 101, Lesson 3: Everything’s in the name.

And the name of my new hair-care product? “long term relationship.” Done.

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