Coupon Killer?

Why one local entrepreneur believes the days of clip-’n’-save are numbered

If you like bold predictions, Bret Pawlowski’s got a shocker for the local business community:

“By the end of this year, because of the technology in place and on its way, I predict the coupon as we know it will be obsolete.” Pawlowski, who owns the marketing firm Brands in Motion, says the old printed coupon has had its day, and he’s doing his part to sweep it into the dustbin, creating a mobile coupon “ecosystem” that about 125 local small and medium-size businesses are already trying out.

Mobile coupons, of course, are not new. For the past few years, consumers have shown a willingness to download a coupon application or receive an SMS text with a coupon code on it to redeem at an area business. But Pawlowski says Brands in Motion can now effectively track the redemption of those coupons—and that may be a game changer for local small businesses.

Pawlowski has spent between $3 and $5 million developing the system since 2008, and his investment is paying off: Brands in Motion has had more than 200,000 downloads for its mobile coupon phone app in the past year-and-a-half.

Business owners can sign on at Brands in Motion’s website,, to gain exposure for their product or service. In addition to downloading the coupons through the website, customers can also get them at three kiosks, or digital screens, at McCarran International Airport’s baggage claim area. The app also has geo-tracking that allows users on the go to find coupons for nearby merchants.

The next step for the company will be the delivery of roughly 25 new kiosks—like the ones at McCarran—that fit on a counter of its local business clients. The kiosks, 17 inches wide by 19 inches tall, will help small and medium-size businesses effectively track mobile coupons with individual codes that come with each coupon download. For the past few years it has been the norm to attach a single code to a coupon, leaving it open for anyone who learns of it to use it. This has made it difficult to track the effectiveness of coupon campaigns, but Pawlowski says Brands in Motion can now “track the life cycle of that coupon from where it gets into the consumer’s hand and know when it is redeemed.”

The kiosks also serve as a new exposure platform for all the businesses in the system. When a customer redeems a coupon, he then sees offers from other businesses on the network. (In addition, Brands in Motion works with companies that have Twitter and Facebook coupon programs.)

Pawlowski says we’re in the midst of a “mobile migration” away from the printed coupon. For the past few years, he says, mobile coupons have been slowly catching on with a skeptical audience. But with 300,000 Android shipments a day and with the majority of the population likely to own a smartphone within the next year or two, he believes the mobile coupon will virtually kill the printed coupon.

“This is the perfect storm of consumer behavior and the number of mobile devices in the world skyrocketing,” he says. By the end of the year, Pawlowski hopes to have about 500 businesses, and kiosks, around town.

• • •

Jerry Barton, owner of Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix, has been in talks with Pawlowski’s group for the past few years. He has been eyeing mobile coupons, but only took the plunge recently, when effective tracking and accountability became a concern.

Barton says he prints about 100,000 brochures a year and places them on racks throughout the Valley. In a year, he sees about 400 redemptions. “People are taking the brochures, but where are they going?” he says. “With this, you can change your offer instantly, too. I can cap how many [redemptions] I’ll take in a week. It gives me a lot of flexibility.”

Brina Marcus, sales and marketing manager for Bootleg Canyon Flightlines, which also operates Fremont Street’s Zip-Line, is also an early adopter, and she says she’s already seeing exposure through the kiosk at McCarran. (The company will soon install an on-site kiosk as well.) Marcus hesitates to say that mobile coupons will replace the company’s print efforts entirely, but she admits to a slight cut in her print advertising budget recently. “The older generation still digs on print,” she says. “But the new generation, I don’t even think they know what a magazine is.”

What makes mobile coupons so attractive for advertisers is the opportunity to personalize offers. Mobile phone users seem intolerant of coupon blasts that don’t apply to their tastes. “Personalization has been a hot topic in the online world,” says Brian Best, corporate director of e-commerce for Boyd Gaming. “It’s about getting that data willfully from the customer of what they like and providing it for them in the future.”

Facebook has gotten consumers used to surrendering such personal information, but privacy concerns still make coupon tracking a tricky proposition. Neal Narayani, corporate director of marketing for Caesars Entertainment, says some customers may not want their information associated with a mobile number. He doesn’t see the gaming giant dumping its print coupon campaigns anytime soon. But with smartphone penetration at about 35 percent today and growing, he sees an inevitable shift ahead. “I think people will be looking at their phones to provide a wallet of coupons for them.”

• • •

Amid all the print-is-dying talk out there, though, there remains the pesky fact that paper coupons still work well for thousands of businesses and millions of consumers.

Doug Bramble, who has owned Las Vegas’ Valpak franchise for 16 years, says he’s still seeing steady increases in his coupon-printing business. His company has been dabbling in the online and mobile coupon business, but more as an added value item to print customers. Valpak, owned by Cox Target Media, still mails about 20 billion coupons a year nationwide. And he says his product is affordable and attractive to cost-conscious businesses these days.

“The Internet didn’t really kill the magazine industry. I don’t see this killing the direct-mail business either,” he says. “People still go to their mailboxes six times a week.”