After my Better 'N' Egg coupon is sorted at the clearinghouse, it is put in a pile with all the other Papetti Foods coupons, then sent to an "agent." Again, most (95%) agents are located in Mexico. The job description of an agent sounds like a cross between a marketing firm and the CIA. Agents check for fraud, analyze that the coupon was correctly redeemed (Was this "Pepsi of Illinois coupon redeemed in Florida and not Illinois?), track demographic use (Did the Tide detergent ad perform better in The New York Times or the Washington Post?), and supply this information back to Papetti Eggs. The process cashes out somewhat like a food chain: Papetti Eggs pays the agent, the agent pays the clearinghouse, the clearinghouse pays the grocery store where the product was purchased.

One of the larger clearinghouses, NCH, doubles as an agent service. I spoke to Charles Brown, VP of Marketing, who was quite willing to answer my inane questions. He explained that there is too much liability involved to offer coupons for really useful things like drinks at bars. "Those products are expansive, so the coupon would have to be for a greater dollar amount, which would attract more fraudulent use."

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