- According to an article in the Journal of the Operational Research Society, cooperative "advertising allowances" were being discussed as early as 1932. Even then, manufacturers and direct mail companies were looking for novel ways to partner to increase profits for all involved parties.
- The U.S. Census Bureau defines direct mail advertisers as businesses that are involved in "creating and designing advertising campaigns for the purpose of distributing advertising materials (e.g., coupons, flyers, samples) or specialties (e.g., key chains, magnets, pens with customized messages imprinted) by mail or other direct distribution, and/or preparing advertising materials or specialties for mailing or other direct distribution." Expanding upon that definition, cooperative (or co-op) direct mail programs offer these services to (or in partnership with) other businesses, who share in the cost and, ideally, profit from the increased exposure.
Example: Coupon Books
- If you receive a monthly envelope in the mail filled with coupons from a variety of local businesses, you are already familiar with one of the most widely-recognized cooperative direct mail programs. To create the package, a direct mail promotional company offers businesses the opportunity to purchase ad space--usually an envelope-sized sheet they can customize--in the promotional company's regular monthly mailer. The direct mail company then markets and distributes the combined mailer throughout an agreed-upon geographic area.
Example: Vendor Earmarks
- Sometimes a vendor offers its customers a financial incentive to market their products exclusively. For example, a retail business may work with one of its major suppliers to cooperatively promote its specific brand of products via direct mail. The vendor may offer to pay a percentage of total mailing cost or may provide a flat amount per quarter or year. Many times the existence of these funds is via direct request only, so they often go undetected and unused. It is worth asking your suppliers if they offer any cooperative marketing programs and, if so, what is required to access this source of free, additional marketing dollars.
Example: Industry or Association Funds
- Today there are non-profit and for-profit associations for virtually every industry. Historically, these organizations have developed campaigns and promotions to draw attention to their work and support their membership. This sometimes includes cooperative advertising dollars industry members can use towards co-branded advertising and promotions, including direct mail. This helps the association promote the industry as a whole while the member using the cooperative advertising program benefits from free or reduced-cost exposure.