Valassis Tests Direct Mail Coupons Through Advo

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Valassis Communications Inc., a sales promotion company that offers coupons primarily through newspaper inserts, has joined forces with competitor Advo Inc. to distribute coupons through direct mail in seven markets around the country. The move intrigues analysts, who say the effort holds promise for both companies.

Valassis, Livonia, MI, dropped about 65,000 pieces in Seattle in December through the Mailbox Values system of direct mailer Advo Inc., Windsor, CT. The other markets in the test, which were added last month, are Jacksonville, FL; Memphis, TN; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Salt Lake City; Sacramento, CA; and Charleston, SC. In each case, Valassis is replacing its traditional Sunday newspaper inserts in about 15 percent of the market with the Advo mailings. The same coupons are being distributed through both channels.

"We're tracking the response to see how the mail works vs. the newspaper," said Kristin Connolly, product manager at Valassis.

She said the company scheduled 43 mailings for this year in those seven markets, and has not yet determined whether the program will continue into 2000. Connolly would not reveal the terms of the Advo agreement.

Advo reaches about 60 million households weekly in 120 markets nationwide with its Mailbox Values shared-mail program. The company primarily serves retail clients, while Valassis primarily serves packaged-goods manufacturers.

One analyst, who asked not to be identified, termed the test "very interesting" and said it appeared to use the complementary strengths of both companies -- Valassis's connections to packaged goods and Advo's expertise in direct-mail delivery.

Valassis, which handled the list-selection process and is tracking the response to the mailings, said it would be several months before it would be able to report any results.

In related news, Advo recently expanded its Advo National Network Extension program through an agreement with RFD Publications, which will distribute to some 263,000 residences in Hawaii through a weekly newspaper. The ANNE program is a collection of regional shared-mailing companies who deliver outside Advo's core markets. RFD, one of Hawaii's largest printing and publishing companies, also agreed to participate in Advo's "America's Looking For Its Missing Children" program, which distributes pictures of missing children to up to 79 million homes each week.

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