The History of Coupons and Promotional Codes

Anyone who is interested in saving money is at least vaguely familiar with the idea of "clipping coupons". Although paper-based coupons are still around today, many of us have now moved on to doing primarily online shopping in which we use "promotional codes" in place of more traditional coupons. No matter what the format, coupons are a way for companies to advertise what they have to offer as well as a way for their customers to save money on the things that they want to buy. So we're all familiar with them, but have you ever thought about how they first got started and how they have changed since that time? If so, read on to learn more about the history of coupons and promotional codes.

The First Coupons from Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola was the first company that was recognized for using coupons as a means of advertising its product. This happened way back in the nineteenth century during the early days of the soda business. Back in 1887 one of the partners of Coca-Cola, a man named Asa Griggs Candler, helped to launch the company into the public eye using innovative and never-tried-before advertising techniques. One of these techniques was the use of the first coupon.

Candler created coupons offering complimentary Coca-Cola to people who he believed might ultimately be interested in purchasing the product. These coupons were mailed out to potential customers and were also placed inside of magazines for readers to discover. The advertising worked. More than eight billion free Coca-Cola drinks were given out to people and within eight years Coca-Cola was being served in every single state that was part of the United States at that time.

It may have seemed counterintuitive to give away free drinks but Coca-Cola remains a household name to this day. This may be attributed in part to the early innovation of advertising with coupons. Coupons are a great way for companies to let people know about the products that they have available for people and they're a great way for people to get a low-cost (or even free) introduction to new products that they might like. If you're daring enough to try new things, coupons can be a great way to get introduced to those things - as was proven by the Coca-Cola Company early on.

Things Take Off with Cereal Coupons

It took another ten or fifteen years for other companies to catch on to the basic idea of what Coca-Cola was doing with its coupons but eventually that time did come. In 1909, C.W. Post of the Post Cereal brand deciding to start offering coupons to customers to allow them to purchase his cereals and the other products that he was selling at a lowered cost. This was the beginning of the real launch of coupons as they were used by businesses throughout the bulk of the twentieth century.

Depression-Era Coupon-Clipping

Many different retailers started taking their cues from Coca-Cola and Post and began offering coupons to their customers. Although customers were taking advantage of this new opportunity to save money from the time that these coupons were first released, the real boom for coupons didn't come until the Depression Era. When the Depression hit, people had to do everything that they could possibly do to save money. One of the things that they could do was to start using coupons for all of their purchases. It was during this time that clipping coupons really became a widespread act that people engaged in specifically for the purpose of saving money on things that they needed or wanted to buy. Prior to this, the drive for coupons was primarily from businesses seeking to advertise but because of the economic demands of the time, the drive for coupons came more from the customer's need to save money.

Milestone Achievements in Twentieth Century Coupon History

After the Depression was over, people maintained the habit that they had developed of trying to save money through clipping coupons. This ultimately led to an entire industry devoted to coupons and the use of them just grew over time. By 1957, the first-ever clearing house devoted entire to the redemption of coupons was created (it was called the Nielsen Coupon Clearing House at the time and then it's name was eventually changed to the Manufacturers Coupon Control Center or MC3). This marked the beginning of the era of the coupon as a crucial part of the world of business. By 1965, more than half of the people in the United States reported that they were coupon clippers. Within the following ten years, that number grew to three quarters of the American population. Milestones for coupons just kept on coming.

Celebrating Coupons with National Coupon Month

By the end of the twentieth century, coupons had become a natural way of life for most families. That's why the majority of us are so familiar with coupons. We clipped them with our parents in their homes or at least watched our parents clip them and use them. In 1998, the United States decided to commemorate this fact with a celebration. The first-ever "National Coupon Month" was established in September of that year. To this day, people celebrate National Coupon Month in America each September.

Coupons Began to Change Shape

Although coupons were starting to be celebrated in America by the end of the twentieth century, there was also a major shift taking place in coupon history. Advances in technology started to offer businesses more innovative ways to offer savings to their customers. Grocery stores, which had long been the primary place where people used their coupons, started to offer "club membership" discounts to their customers which took some of the pressure off of customers to clip coupons before going grocery shopping. Coupons didn't disappear but they started to change as technology and sales marketing changed.

Coupons Meet the Internet

With the proliferation of the Internet and the ecommerce industry, it naturally happened that people started creating online coupons. These brought the basic idea of the original coupon to the new medium of online shopping. These coupons go by a wide variety of different names but they basically fall into two different formats: printable coupons and coupon codes.

Printable coupons, as their name suggests, are those coupons that are available on the Internet but which can be printed from a home computer and used in local stores. Coupon codes, on the other hand, are just code numbers that are entered into a portion of the form that you fill out when ordering online so that the coupon can be applied to the total purchase before you make your online payment.

Printable coupons have a short history but it is a history which has been through a lot already. That is because there were a lot of problems and a lot of controversy when printable coupons were first created. It turned out that it was easy for people to create fraudulent coupons and it was easy for them to print coupons for purposes that they were not originally intended to be used for. This created a sort of coupon fraud that had never existed to quite this degree in the coupon industry in the past. Ultimately, further advances in technology reduced these problems and printable coupons are used fairly safely and steadily today.

Coupon codes (also known as promotional codes or online discount codes) have an even shorter history but they are one of the fastest-growing types of coupons that are in use today. Entire websites have sprung up which are devoted to sharing current coupon codes for a diverse range of stores with the people who come to visit the site. The majority of chain stores - and even many smaller stores - offer coupon codes to entice their customers to make purchases online.

Coupons and Promotional Codes Today

Throughout the history of coupons and promotional codes, there has been a shift back and forth between coupons used as advertising by businesses and coupons used by customers to save money. When first launched, coupons were mostly used as advertising by businesses seeking to attract customers. Later, coupons were primarily a way for customers to save money no matter where they shopped.

Today, there seems to be a fairly even balance of both purposes for the coupon industry. With the economy the way that it is, people are continuing to use coupons (with recent statistics saying that approximately ninety percent of Americans use coupons today). Businesses are competing for the money of those customers by offering better coupons and turning to new online coupon formats to get customers through the Internet.

Coupons and the Future

Coupons have been a part of our lives since the nineteenth century so there is a good chance that people will continue to use them well into the twenty first century. However, it is also likely that the format of coupons will continue to change. With mobile internet and mobile shopping becoming increasingly popular, we may ultimately see the emergence of some sort of mobile coupon. This is particularly true considering the number of cell phone applications being developed today which allow the phone to scan bar codes and do comparison shopping for the item in nearby locations. Whatever changes take place with coupons, they will likely be in keeping with the original history of coupons which was to introduce an innovative new way to advertise products to potential customers.

 In The Press

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