July 14, 2009

They say it was curiosity that killed the cat...

...but I'm far more convinced it was one of the products from my Sunday coupon circulars.

You know which ones I'm talking about...don't act like you've never glanced twice at those checks with your alma mater's logo on them, or that you weren't intrigued by an entire series of Christmas ornaments dedicated to the awesomeness of cheese. Here are a few gems I thought were worth sharing with you from some of my recent circulars. Stop me if you've seen these. Really stop me if you've bought these, because we need to have a little chat...

The first ad is sort of what I expect to find in the circulars: Useless stuff

In these hard economic times, is your fridge looking empty and bare? Then maybe you should dress up the outside with these Handpainted Dachshund Magnets! There is nothing more heart-warming than a kitchen appliance devoted to dogs in costumes! Look at their tiny legs! Look at their long noses! Look at their hats! I think that for only an initial investment of $4.90, you won't even mind the total investment price of $302.40. That's right, folks, all 25 of these handpainted, expertly sculpted magnets are yours for the bargain price of just THREE HUNDRED TWO DOLLARS AND FORTY CENTS!

Clipping coupons because you don't have over $300 to spruce up your fridge with dogs in costumes, you say? Well, let's move on to our next category in coupon circular ads: Clothing.

First up in the clothing category is this little beauty from DreamProductsCatalog.com.

That's right, ladies - Summer is here but who doesn't hate trying on bathing suits? They are never flattering and that light in the dressing room makes everyone look like they just came off an ill-fated 3-hour boat tour. That is why this product is so wonderful! Not only do you save yourself the emotional (and possibly physical) trauma of trying on a bathing suit, but you can look FOUR SIZES SMALLER! I think my favorite thing about this ad is the model who clearly would be shopping in the children's section if she were four sizes smaller and the only "proof" they have of this product's slimming capabilities is in an illustration done by Bobby Wilcox from Mrs. Johnson's 6th grade art class. Notice how the ad says it "Trims and shapes EVERYWHERE!" Well, sure - everywhere there is bathing suit. This means look out, world, I'm coming at you with my size "__" body and my arms and legs that are 4 sizes bigger! I think I'd rather just see people who are delusional about their ability to wear bikinis than see freakishly proportioned zebras of different colors walking around on the beach or at the pool, you know?

If you're not in the market for a swimsuit right now, that is OK. Amerimarkads.com has some beautiful items in stock just for you.

First up is this absolutely stunning polka dot dress with MATCHING BELT! I don't even know why my closet isn't full of these dresses. Look how happy the models are in these dresses! The blonde lady is almost giddy with her own hotness. But sometimes you don't want to be dressed up so fancy. Sometimes you need something a little more casual. Sometimes, you need this:

Come and knock on MY door! Mrs. Roper would be so proud that her stylish sensibilities are still making the rounds in the new millenium! I can't even figure out how much these things cost, but they would be a bargain at twice the price! The ad says I'll want to stock up on these, and boy is it right! I can hardly wait to get one in every LSD-trip induced pattern! And for all my plus-sized friends out there, don't fret; These come in sizes all the way up to 5X, so you do not have to be left out in the cold without your slammin' mumu!

I just had to know some more about Amerimarkads.com, so I headed over to their website. I found it to be a site that was strictly for purchasing from the ads. A quick google search landed me on their main site, though, and since I had some questions, I headed right over to the FAQ (well, not before perusing some of their GREAT products! Bed wedge, anyone?) to see if my questions could be answered. Believe it or not, the answer to "Who the hell buys this stuff?" was not featured in their FAQ! But I did find some other information, because the website is actually pretty well constructed and easy to navigate. AmeriMark was on the mark for just their demographic, as I'd soon learn.

One thing I learned from the website was that this company sells it's products in eight different catalogs - none of which I'd ever heard of. But they've been doing this for THIRTY-NINE YEARS. That means SOMEONE is definitely buying this stuff, and I gotta know who.

Fortunately for me, Dave Oby from AmeriMark was willing to answer some questions for me about the company and how well they do business. After explaining to Mr. Oby why I was conducting my overall experiment ("my own, nosey curiosity," I told him), I revealed the reason why I was nosing around into his particular company's business. I explained that I couldn't help but wonder why - when the main reason for coupon circulars, as I see it, is to clip coupons to save money - AmeriMark chooses to advertise products for straight up sale. His answer was surprisingly simple economics: He explained to me that the main reason for choosing to advertise via "FSIs" or "Free Standing Inserts" in circulars is simply because you can reach a large audience at a reasonable cost to the company. So, interestingly enough, it seems that the coupon supplement actually works both ways in the money savings game - to us, the consumers when we are able to clip coupons, and to the advertisers, who are able to get a bargain blast of advertising out.

So that explains why they are in the circulars, but I still wondered who the heck is buying this stuff? Who are they trying to reach via Sunday supplements? I really shouldn't have been surprised by this answer at all: The demographic, Mr. Oby explained, is middle-class women aged 50 and over. Of course. Who is it that is clipping the coupons? Mostly women. Who is it that would actually be tempted by the comfort and class of the above mumu? A 50+-year-old woman. It all made perfect sense to me. And when he explained to me who the target audience was for the ads, it answered yet another question I had about why they didn't just offer a coupon in the circular for usage on the company's website. These women, and my mom would defnitely be one of them, are not necessarily technologically savvy. They are from the heyday of catalog shopping. They like the personal touch of calling up and talking to a friendly customer service representative who takes their order and makes them feel secure enough to give out their credit card information. And while Mr. Oby said he could not divulge the numbers of how many orders they receive from the FSI's vs. other means, he did say that they have been advertising in supplements for at least the 15 years he has been at the company, and so one can easily assume that it is a lucrative form of marketing for them.

Because of the nature of coupons is to save, I did wonder if the recent economic downturn had affected their business at all, and I was suprised to hear that it had actually been very good so far this year. Apparently, other catalog based companies are folding, and Mr. Oby said the lack of clutter in folks' mailboxes was helping them to stand out a little more from the crowd. I do wish I had asked him since the company aligned itself with "money saving coupons," did he worry about being perceived as having products of lower quality because they were advertised with other "discounts," but that will have to wait for another interview opportunity, I suppose.

Another interesting facet to this story is that, even though the company uses the inserts in the supplements as a means of advertising, the catalog industry is sort of self-feeding when it comes to targeting its audience. Mr. Oby explained that they had tried doing some magazine advertising in the past but that it did not work very well, and that their main, true focus is catalog sales. So, what I learned was that this company, and many others, rather than focusing on who to send their catalogs to, focus on who NOT to send them to. They then end up renting mailing lists from one another in order to reach those populations who make the cut. I find it interesting that even in a competitive industry such as sales, there seems to be a lot of back-scratching going on between companies, and I can't help but wonder then if, when there is a decrease in competition, can it hurt as much as help?

My final question to Mr. Oby was personal: I asked him did he own any of the products the company sells. He wasn't able to say definitively that he did NOT have anything that the company sells, but did state that he wasn't in the target age range, plus he didn't really fit that whole "woman" part of the demographic equation! So, no polka dot dresses for Mr. Oby, who said the were "not really my style."

So there we go. I think Mr. Oby's answers as far as who is targeted by his company via the supplements would be very similar across the board for the other products that are featured. Sure, from time to time you'll find products that seem directed at men (Omaha steaks, anyone?), but for the most part the products you'll find are very woman-centric. After talking to Mr. Oby and having him be so indulgent to my questions, (And hearing that the company actually designs a lot of those high fashions themselves!) I almost feel bad for making fun of the products. Then again, I think I'm in the clear, because I'm not his target audience, anyway!

Happy Supplement Shopping!


Ben Muldrow said...

That is very interesting. I too wonder about the effects of product value on regular coupon offers. How do Businesses maintain product value and still use incentives like coupons. Arby's five for five is the example that comes to mind, I would never go to Arbys unless the 5 for 5 deal was going, and established a value of $1 per regular roast beef.

KuryKidsMommy said...

Excellent research Madam Sleuth! I was enthralled and intrigued as you systematically answered each question I have ever had about those random inserts mixed in with my delightful coupons. Good work!!

Anonymous said...

Consider also that with FSIs, you have two distinct advantages over direct mail: direct mail usually arrives unsolicited in your mailbox, while most newspapers are paid subscriptions. The reader actually pays for your ad to reach their eyeballs. And, the cost of inserting FSIs in the paper to reach your willing audience is very inexpensive. For instance, a one-page insert in the Sunday edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette costs $39/m, or 0.039¢ per insert. Average readership is 2.5 sets of eyes per newspaper, so when you break it down by readership, that's only 0.015¢ per insert. Cheap enough to cast a very wide net, and when you fling your net wide, you're bound to catch a few magnet-loving, muumuu-wearing fish.
I like this entry. Keep up the good work!