The first coupon appeared more than 125 years ago when Coca-Cola issued coupons for a free glass of Coke. Coupons also have been a part of the Sunday newspaper for years.

The first co-op, free-standing insert for coupons was introduced more than 40 years ago in August 1972 by George Valassis.

The original coupon inserts were called “flag-wavers,” because “the coupons were separated along the side and waved freely like flags.”  

As a child, I can remember my mother clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper, and then I would help her sort them as we shopped at the supermarket. We normally had one of each coupon, and maybe used three or four in each shopping trip.

In recent years, couponing has changed dramatically from what it was when I was growing up. Television shows such as The Learning Channel’s “Extreme Couponing” gave rise to a new breed of couponers, who use tens to hundreds of coupons in a single shopping trip.

Publishers were quickly caught up in the wake.

Just three short years ago, this couponing phenomenon caused single-copy sales at many U.S. newspapers to swell, sometimes to dramatic proportions. Stories were told of 40% to 50% increases in single copies year-over-year, and newspapers quickly took advantage of this.

Today, that phenomenon has abated somewhat, but coupons are still a pivotal part of the Sunday product. Couponing is still very much alive. Let’s look at some statistics.

  • 92% of consumers use coupons; 60% use printable coupons.

  • Consumers saved US$1.8 billion using coupons in the first half of 2013.

  • 96% of millennials use coupons.

  • Households with incomes of US$100,000 or more are twice as likely to use coupons as those earning less than US$35,000. College-degree holders are also twice as likely to use coupons as those who did not graduate from high school.

  • How mothers find coupons: print (78%), circulars (65%), digital (55%)

Coupons are still a popular item, and, contrary to popular opinion, the general demographic of a coupon user matches that of newspaper readers. Because of this, many newspapers around the country are still leveraging coupons to sell newspapers.

To get some ideas, I talked to a few newspapers around the United States over the last couple of weeks, and here is what they shared.

At the Savannah Morning News, the coupon value is put on the upper right corner of the front page, especially if it a large coupon value that Sunday.

Michelle Rubrecht, the “Savannah Savvy Shopper,” sends out weekly posts to 7,400 fans on her Facebook page, teasing them about how it is going to be a great week for coupons. Rubrecht also writes a column matching up the best retail store deals with coupons from the Sunday newspaper, which helps promote single-copy sales as well.

When certain deals are mentioned in her columns, readers might go back out and pick up another newspaper to score even more savings.

Rubrecht also teaches classes on couponing to promote the Sunday newspaper. Because of the relationships she has built, Rubrecht says, her “Facebook fans, readers, and store managers know they can come to me for help on couponing honestly and ethically.”

This goes a long way toward building the brand image in their market.

Engagement is also built with the audience in Savannah by encouraging Facebook fans to post their great deals on the Savvy Shopper page, which in turn helps out a new coupon shopper. This then turns that new shopper into a newspaper purchaser, and helps them develop a habit of not only clipping the coupons, but reading the newspaper, as well.

At the Albany Times Union in Albany, New York, Vice President of Circulation Todd Peterson told me they do something similar to Savannah with their coupon value, but they place it on the homepage of their Web site every Friday to promote Sunday’s coupon value.

The promotional ad is an animated graphic that adds up the coupons until it reaches the final value.

Albany is also doing some interesting things with point-of-purchase (POP) in single-copy outlets.

In larger retailers, the Times Union is using a four-sided “quad” rack to place as many papers as possible in each location. The TU uses large signage to promote savings and coupons on its racks, and also promotes the coupon value each week with an interchangeable sign.

Marvin Holder, retail audience manager at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, is doing some unique things to promote coupon value, as well.

Each week, his team adds up the coupons from the coming week’s inserts, and the marketing department runs several ads leading up to Sunday that promote the coupon value. They also place the coupon value on the front page of every Sunday’s newspaper, as well as develop unique POP presentations each week to place in retail stores.

Holder is also posting the coupon value to the newspaper’s Facebook page when there is an extremely high coupon value, and experimenting with sending e-mail blasts to registered users to promote that Sunday’s high coupon value.

Jill Kenly, audience sales and retention manager at The News Tribune, recently ran a blitz sales campaign when she found the coupon value in a coming week was going to be more than US$600.

She quickly activated a sales team, and in two days sold more than 150 subscriptions with a promised delivery start date of that Sunday. Everyday digital access was also included with these subscriptions to promote the value of the daily news product, as well.

Coupons are a definite attraction for Sunday newspaper buyers, whether through home delivery or single copy. A goal for audience executives should be to maximise their sales from this source and to turn these buyers and their families into long-term readers.