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The Anatomy of a Good Coupon Ad: What to Include and What to Avoid



Register tape advertising has emerged as a top method for local businesses to deliver coupons to customers in their communities. The concept is simple: Restaurants, auto shops, nail salons, and other businesses buy coupon space on the back of receipts given to consumers at grocery stores. Everyone needs groceries and doesn’t travel too far to buy them. With register tape advertising, these shoppers are handed coupons—your coupons—whenever they make a purchase at the store. The strategy is simple yet ingenious, and can be wildly effective if your coupon ad is good.

That’s the kicker: Your coupon ad must be good to draw the attention of shoppers. A coupon on the back of a receipt still competes against other coupons for the eyeballs of the recipient, and even one that stands out won’t be used (and will likely be discarded) if it is ineffective or unappealing. The “art” of your coupon matters, but the “design”—the combination of the business objective and the visual objective—matters more. With that in mind, here are several things to include and not include when designing a good coupon ad:

What to Include

  • An appealing value: The value offered by a coupon is the primary driver of whether a consumer is intrigued by the deal or ignores it. Often, perceived value might outweigh actual value—$5 off at a fast food restaurant might be a greater percentage discount than $10 off at a nicer eatery, but the $10 looks more impressive on a coupon. The balance between perceived value versus actual value can sometimes be a tricky to ascertain, but no matter what, be sure to provide enough value to impress the recipient into at least thinking about using the coupon.
  • A compelling call to action: With your established value in mind, use as much real estate on the coupon as possible to deliver a call to action, such as “$5 off any purchase of $20 or more,” “50 percent off” or “Buy one, get one free.” This lets the reader see the value immediately.
  • Colors and images: A coupon on a back of a receipt may be small, but it can still be visually appealing and pop off the paper. Use vibrant but complementary colors to make your ad stand out, and add photos—perhaps of a menu item or the service you offer—to give consumers a better representation of your business.
  • More than one choice: With a double-sized ad that might be available to you, you may elect to offer more than one deal on a single coupon. This gives consumers power to choose the value most appealing to them.
  • Basic information about your business: Don’t forget to include the vital info about your business: address, phone number, web site, expiration date, and—if you have room (you don’t want your ad to be too busy)—hours of operation and social media handles.

What Not to Include

  • Not enough value: A dollar off a $20 entrée or service simply is not enough incentive to use a coupon. Don’t be cheap with your offer. Usually, at least 20 percent savings will sufficiently pique the consumer’s interest.
  • Too much value: Don’t be cheap, but don’t be generous either. Too much value will attract customers who will only patronize your business when there’s a coupon, which ultimately will affect your bottom line.
  • No offer at all: Some businesses might try getting away with advertising on receipts without offering a coupon. This doesn’t work well—instead of saving the receipt for the coupon, the consumer simply tosses it and forgets your ad was ever there. (If your business doesn’t lend itself to receipt coupons, never fear, other grocery store advertising options are available.)
  • Too many choices: Two options on a good coupon ad empower the consumer. Three or more are overwhelming, potentially confusing the shopper to the point of simply ignoring the ad.
  • Everything: Trying to cram too much information on a little 1x2 or 2x2 ad is a sure way to guarantee the customer won’t read it. Shrinking the font size won’t help either—the reader shouldn’t need a magnifying glass to read your phone number. Include only what reasonably fits and looks good, and don’t let your coupon ad get too crammed.

What do you think is most essential to a good coupon ad?