Valassis' Plan to End Newspaper Coupons Outrages Middle America

Last Updated Feb 24, 2009 11:04 AM EST

Valassis CEO Alan Schultz told investors recently that "we are hearing some consumer grumbling" about his company pulling its Red Plum coupons out of local newspapers in favor of sending them via the U.S. Postal Service or making them available online at RedPlum.com.

But it's more than just grumbling. There's an online tidal wave of anger at Valassis for yanking its newspaper coupons. At BringBacktheCoupons.com, angry commenters have filled up 38 pages of bulletin boards with their ire at Valassis.

The regular media has been asleep at the wheel on this story, which is odd because removing coupons from local newspapers is a huge threat to that industry -- much greater, economically, than declining circulation caused by the movement of readers to the web. I suspect the lack of interest is due to the fact that the victims in the story live outside New York and Los Angeles, and media professionals don't rub shoulders very often with families that rely on coupons to put food on the table. The advertising trade media has historically ignored the coupon business because it is not as sexy as covering Super Bowl ads, and because their reporters don't understand it.

But out in blogland, people are up in arms. Coupon-cutters hate what Valassis has done. (They created the images you see on this page.) Here's a roundup of the outrage. Make sure you scroll down to the last item, where the Let's Be Thrifty blog describes the (non)responses she got when contacting Nestle and Mrs. T's for comment. Mrs. T's claims "These are circumstances beyond our control," which is either a lie or a really strange strategic error on that company's part.

(Note to marketers: Responding to your customers with generic statements is no longer a smart idea in the internet age!)

Attempting Frugality:
The Red Plum/Valassis insert is getting pulled from some papers. Boo!

Are you affected? Valassis has pulled their RedPlum coupon inserts from major cities in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Maryland, and Texas.
Bargain Briana:
Apparently Valassis thinks having internet printables (some stores are inconsistent with their treatment of Internet Printables, many internet printables do not double, some consumers have no access to internet or a printer,and others just can't get them to print on their computer or limited because they use public access terminals) and mailing out Red Plum insert to customers is now enough. ... They have not taken into account that many people buy extra newspaper inserts to maximize their savings or buy extra items for charity. In addition, couponers are probably keeping some newspapers afloat by couponers buying extra papers each week just for the extra inserts!

This brings me to the question, is this the beginning of the end of coupons as we know it? I hope not because good old fashioned Sunday Coupon Inserts are what I mainly use to save! In fact, most manufacturer's view coupons as a form of advertisement. You can't get that same advertisement in a printable internet coupon or a "e coupon". ... I'm not a marketing expert but does this make sense to you?
In Good Cents:
Frugal shoppers and coupon users nationwide are up in arms about this decision with very good reason! When Red Plum has a great insert, we head to the store to pick up extra copies of the paper, but for many that won't be an option any longer. Since newspaper inserts are the number one source of savings for many frugal shoppers, I'm personally stunned Valassis would decided to upset it's target audience by making it's insert more complicated and sometimes impossible to obtain for consumers.

Valassis says that they are now using a more direct marking campaign in which their coupons will be available online, but since many stores have difficult Internet coupon policies or completely do not accept them, this really doesn't seem like an equal exchange at all.
I Heart Wags:
For the average person, this may not seem like a big deal, but for couponers who buy multiple Sunday newspapers to get more than just one set of coupons, this is a major setback.
What the Cornbread?
Where did the Sunday coupons go?

Well, that's a great question. If you bought a Sunday paper today you might be disappointed ... cutting coupons is not about frugality in tough economic times, it's about survival.
Womanly Excellence: DON'T DO IT, VALASSIS!

Dear Valassis, I'm a "coupon blogger" and "blogger mom". I buy 4 newspapers a week for the coupon inserts and I only shop using my coupons. I will be very upset if the coupons are pulled from newspapers. I understand that we can have them mailed to us, however, that prevents me from getting multiples. This is very upsetting news. More and more people are couponing during this hard economic time and I believe it would be a very bad move for not only consumers, but also manufacturer's and the stores. Don't do it! Please!

Not living Without:
Even if you have not been impacted by this, I think it is smart to voice your concern. Given the current economic situation a lot of newspapers and printers are having a lot of problems staying afloat.
Common Sense With Money:
I am in Las Vegas and we started receiving the Red Plum inserts with our weekly grocery flyers months ago. About 3 weeks ago, those stopped. I haven't seen a Red Plum in weeks. We also don't get the P&G BrandSavers (once in a year have I seen it in our paper). We are down to Smart Source and that's it. It's pretty frustrating!
Mrs. Alspaugh:
They gave the line, you can print coupons. Most stores won't take them and the ones that do want perfectly printed ones. The coupon in paper maybe coming to a end. I know I use cellfire.com, shortcuts.com, and P&G coupons on my Kroger card. Could RedPlum be starting this? Some of the coupons I load don't even work. It is a real bother to get home and see on my reciept that I bought full priced items.
Let's Be Thrifty:
I don't know what else to call it, but a mishap. If you haven't yet heard, Valassis (publisher of Red Plum coupon inserts found in Sunday newspapers) has decided to pull their insert from Cleveland, Ohio area newspapers and instead direct mail these inserts to Cleveland households.

So, why am I so irritated? I mean, after all, I'm way down here in South Carolina!

Because what is started somewhere else will more than likely end up here as well, unless something is done about it.

So far I've received these responses:

From Nestle - Thank you for contacting Nestle. I would like to assure you that I have reported your comments regarding the Red Plum coupon insert to our Marketing department. We are committed to providing you with products that live up to our high standards for taste, quality, nutrition and enjoyment - in short, "the very best." We appreciate your interest and hope you will visit our website often for the latest information on our products and promotions. Sincerely, Tara Williams.

Well--..thanks so much Ms. Williams, for telling me about your commitment to quality products. I truly appreciate the formmail approach.

From Mrs. T's - Thank you for contacting Mrs. T's Pierogies with your concern. Unfortunately Red Plum has decided to drop the Cleveland Plain Dealer from their circulation list. These are circumstances beyond our control here at Mrs. T's. You will be happy to know that if you were/are a subscriber to the newspaper you will be receiving the coupon insert via the U.S. Mail. If you are interested in receiving coupons from Mrs. T's beyond the Red Plum piece, please reply to me with your mailing address and we can add you to our mailing list. You will receive coupons and recipes directly from Mrs. T's twice a year.

Gee--.thanks. I appreciate your offer of 2-3 coupons a year versus the hundreds I would have otherwise received. All of this really leaves me wondering--.do these people honestly care about the consumer? I mean really. Do they honestly have any idea what it's like to feed a family of 5 on less than $400 a month? My guess is no. They have some cushy job making a ridiculous amount of money making stops at the corner grocery or local restaurant spending $60 or more on a single meal. They've probably never cut a coupon in their life.

Some ladies are talking about boycotting these companies that advertise with Red Plum. I really don't even have the power. The simple fact is--.if I don't have a coupon for it, I don't buy it--.period. I guess that's boycotting by default?

It's a durn shame that something like this is happening in the middle of this gruesome economic crisis.

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