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Freebies: Good marketing tool or a waste of money?

November, 2016

There’s something about the word free that draws people in, but do we actually need, want or use those items we’ve hastily grabbed? Erica Jones from Kent PR and marketing agency Maxim looks at the benefits or otherwise of the free gift.

Everyone loves a freebie. Whether it’s a cake, a pen or a bag full of goodies we see the word free and we want as many as we can get our grubby little mitts on. Then we get home, take a proper look at the item and shove it in a drawer forgotten about. (Unless it’s the cake, which would have been eaten before you could read the company logo lovingly iced onto the top.)

Even worse, I’ve actually seen people greedily hunt through their goody bag, scooping out the one thing they think might be useful and leaving the rest scattered across the table at their event. Their rush was my gain as I came away with five torches and a couple of new sets of iPhone earbuds.

Such imagery will be depressing to many a marketing department, but the life of promotional merchandise isn’t necessarily as bad as I’ve made it sound.

Making use

Taking a quick look around my desk I have (obviously) a Maxim calendar, a Rochester Bridge Trust ruler, an ifour jar, a Royal Academy of Engineering coaster and a London Array desk clock. These are next to a notebook from Cripps, while a memory stick from the Port of Dover sits in the USB port on my monitor ready to load up for use in meetings, and an ifour mobile phone battery charger is always ready to go.

Pens – which are a mix of brands to remember and styles I like – are variously from Coins Global, Cripps, DHA Planning, Kent Press and Broadcast Awards, Matalan, Riso, Roca, The Sunday Times and Thales. While two more from London Array and Benenden Hospital (along with some of their hand sanitizer) are permanently in my handbag.

Speaking of my handbag, that’s regularly home to either a Books are my bag or Sunday Times tote bag and if you ever bump into me doing the weekly shop I’ll be loading my expensive ingredients into a Kent Press & Broadcast Awards jute bag. As a keen recycler those bags or similar have been a part of my life for some years.

Reusability means I also regularly carry a refillable Arriva mug when buying my take away coffee in town. For longer journeys a Maxim flask comes in handy too. Speaking of those long journeys, a pair of Lightmaker sunglasses can be found in my car for passengers in need.

Quite handy

The above is simply the items in regular use, raid my drawers and you’ll find blue Intel nail polish (red would’ve made it to the regular use list above) and a Goldman Sachs notebook among other items that cannot be thrown away. Which is where the Ernst & Young iPod also now finds itself, after a good few years of accompanying me to the gym before I bought a smart phone.

Widen the net to the rest of the office and branded items include calendars from ifour and Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, mugs from the KM Group, Larrytech and SmokeFree Kent, and a range of branded stress balls (obviously we never need to use those. Ahem).

As you can see, here at Maxim we like to make use of our freebies, and I’m betting other people’s offices will be similarly filled.

However, not all promotional merchandise is as well loved, received or even beneficial to their providers.

Not so useful freebies

At home I have a lovely pot plant picked up at a recent exhibition. It’s pretty and I look at it every day because it’s next to the kitchen sink. However the label advertising whatever company it might have been from is hidden inside a decorative planter and I have no recollection of the conversation that must have taken place when collecting it.

Those previously mentioned torches ended up being tossed as the cheap, non-replaceable batteries ran out, while the headphones – which are very useful – were only branded on their long-lost boxes so I have no idea where they came from.

For a while I thought the pedometer might come in handy, but that was swiftly replaced by a more high-tech gadget and now makes me think of the company involved as being slightly less forward-thinking than they’d perhaps like.

Other items that also get less use are a variety of pens for being too flimsy, gaudy or running out of ink in seconds; mini post-it notes that would have been perfect for use marking pages in my student days but are good for very little now; and a collection of keyrings or trolley tokens that are never going to fit into my already too large bundle of keys. Although a Crowe Clark Whitehill spirit level-cum-tape measure-keyring has come in very handy around my flat, so not all keyrings are bad.

What merchandise to offer?

As you can tell, a lot of freebies have passed through my hands, so what should you be offering?

The important thing is to consider your audience and your timing. That Intel nail varnish would have been pointless to give out at a mostly male event, likewise the sunglasses could have been swiftly thrown away if I’d stumbled across them in the dark of winter, as it was the audience and the time of year were perfect for both the items presented.

Another thing to consider is quality. If you choose to give out an ever-useful pen you have to remember you’re competing against hundreds of others: yours needs to be the smartest, best quality of the lot. Failing that it has to be the oddest – topped with a cat or looking like a tool of your trade – so it at least stands out. The same applies for any of the other items people might already have. I’m quite attached to most of my regular freebies, but present me with a better version and I’m sure I could be fickle.

Finally, if you’re looking for something to add to this desk-bound worker’s collection of promotional merchandise, here are a few branded items I’d be happy to own:

  • Stationery: a sticky tape holder or simply a pen pot would come in particularly handy, but I’ve also got my eye on a desk blotter and the child in me will never say no to novelty stickers.
  • Tech: another mobile phone battery charger and a USB stick or two will never go amiss, which is the same for any other gadgets I might be able to re-use.
  • Selfie stick: I’m never, ever going to buy one of these but I will use it if it’s handed to me at an event.
  • Water bottle: it’s not all about hot drinks and this would be shown off to good effect in the gym.
  • Random essentials: tins of mints have always been a hit in my handbag, as have lipbalm and handcream on the rare occasions they’ve been presented.
  • An umbrella: We live in Britain, this needs no explanation.

That’s it for now. I’ve painted my nails and am off to a meeting, before I go I’ve packed a tote bag holding a couple of pens, note book, memory stick, spare battery and a drink for the journey…

Erica Jones - Account Director

Erica Jones

Maxim / Account Director

posted in: advice, marketing, media relations, public relations,

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