My Favorite Marketing Giveaways

My mother was a credit card pusher for Sears the 1980s.The Oven Stick

Clad in her “Sears Free Gift” T-shirt, Mom enticed potential credit victims with freebies and a genuinely sincere smile. She was so good at it; she was even named the top credit application representative for Sears in the Greater Cleveland area.

But Mom does not just love giving freebies. She loves receiving them, too. She is a collector of sorts. It’s not a deliberate hobby; it’s just that she cannot resist getting something for free. Growing up with a mother who would wait in long lines for that free treat caused my brother, sister and I to recoil. We also like free things but we like to believe we are more, ehem, discriminating.

But she is not alone. Giveaways work, as the theory goes, because there is something embedded in our human nature that gets us excited about getting something for nothing…even if that something is not worth anything.

I confess I am cynical about the whole giveaway concept. Freud would say it is because of my experience with my mother.

So I asked some professional marketers on LinkedIn what they thought. Their responses were mixed. Two responders were believers. Another wrote it really depends on the audience and the product.

Another swore off freebies and the trade shows where he used to offer them. He shared a story about a person who approached him at a booth and, after surveying what was available, complained that this year’s freebie was the same as last year’s.

Even though in a previous blog I discouraged the plastic knick-knacks that overpopulate conferences, I thought it would be only fair to mention the incentives –– as these are known in the marketing business –– that I do like. These useful items have shelf life in my home, beckoning me, unsuccessfully, to buy, sign up or visit a website. My list is numbered for clarity. This is not a ranking.


Giveaways work, as the theory goes, because (we get) excited about getting something
for nothing…even if that something
is not worth anything.


1)    The Oven Stick. A wooden ruler with special ends to push and pull the hot wire racks in my oven hangs in my kitchen. This one came from Long Fence Washington, D.C. I found them online for $.35 each in bulk.

2)    Stick Drives. I’ll never turn them down but I cannot think of any of the companies that gave them away. It’s expensive to be forgotten. They run about $6 each.

3)    A one-quarter-inch thick 12-inch ruler. I’ve had it for at least 13 years and it is heavy enough to ensure a straight edge. Company: Bill Sopko & Sons from my hometown of Euclid, Ohio.

4)    A small plastic spiral-bound holder for post-it-note page markers. Provided by Naval Sea Systems Command, the largest command in the U.S. Navy.

5)    Notepads from anywhere and everywhere. This is the only freebie I ever bought for purposes of marketing my business.

6)    Pens…quality pens that are actually nice to write with. Cheap pens give me writer’s cramp, which makes me cranky. I like the chunky ones I like at doctor offices. They are more expensive, but apparently that doesn’t stop the pharmaceutical industry.

7)    Finally, I still use the steak knife set I received from a JC Penny credit card pusher from the 1980s. The credit card account is long closed and there is no JC Penny logo on the knives, but they have had the longest shelf life of all – more than 20 years.

Marketing Mistake Part II: Spending Too Much Money

Last week, I covered the biggest marketing and communications mistake: Not knowing your audience well enough.

The second biggest marketing mistake is spending too much money.

There are a lot of fun ways to waste money promoting products and services.

Some business folk love to spend hard-earned budget dollars on Made in China plastic uselessness known as incentives. Oh sure, people grab this stuff at marketing booths like children with their McDonald’s Happy Meal toy “surprises.” Wonder what happens to these impulsive treasures? Ask a mother.

Do you really want your company’s name in next week’s trash?

And think of the subtle messages your company is sending about its investment in quality, environmental concern for endless landfills and economic support for China.

(By the way, not all incentives are useless. I’ll cover my favorite ones in a future blog.)

Or there are those who like to buy splashy advertisements that tell their potential customers very little. I call them “ego ads.” Advertising has its place, but there are hundreds of other ways to promote your business without it.

Other companies offer free seminars to showcase their expertise. But nowadays, people cannot give up production time to sit around and sift through soft sales pitches to glean the useful information.


Do you really want your company’s name in next week’s trash?


There are several ways to effectively market with a reasonable budget. One very effective approach is to provide valuable content and publish it in media that reach your customer base.

Thanks to Internet publishing, there are more opportunities than ever. Done correctly, hiring a writer/editor with proven experience in publishing and media placement is certainly less expensive than an advertising campaign. Material can be re-purposed in a multitude of other ways, including websites, blogs and newsletters.

Good old-fashion bartering of services and wares is another way to save some cash. I worked for a newspaper that provided free advertising in exchange for company t-shirts, mugs and pens. And frankly, I would not mind offering public relations services to an accountant willing to handle my books and taxes!

Assuring a corporate culture that encourages the maximum customer service possible can be cost-effective and efficient. Don’t send customers to your website only to get lost. Ditto for reporters. If you want to boost media coverage, make sure your media representatives are doing everything possible to help reporters.

Most companies gain more business from referrals. Encourage your customers to tell your story, whether over lunch or on websites and brochures. Offer discounts for referrals and lower cost “trial periods” for new customers. My company offers a minimum $500 monthly retainer.

And finally, keep a record of what works and what does not. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. Ask current customers why they like your company, new customers how they heard of your company and old customers why they left. The answers could surprise you

Next week, I will cover Biggest Marketing Mistake #3: Wasting Too Much Time.