Freebies: Dos and Don’ts for Marketers

I spent yesterday at CAA’s 5th Annual Charity Golf Tournament in support of SickKids Foundation. After weeks of prep and planning, I was glad the event went off without a hitch and had a really enjoyable day, despite the round of golf ending early due to inclement weather. Being a volunteer (or being ‘voluntold’ as my coworkers lovingly/joking put it) definitely had its perks, as I got to spend a day away from the office, was inside setting up during the storm, and got to take home some free shwwaaag. A good-sized golf umbrella, fresh flowers, a SickKids Tails book, and goodie bag (golf tees & balls, sunscreen, gum, in a reusable wine bag) all made their way home with me and I could not have been happier.



Driving home with a coworker, she found a universal/multi-outlet charger in her car – a freebie from her last employer. The USB charger had connections for an iPod, Blackberry, and camera; very useful and very cool to receive.

This got me thinking: What makes some freebies good, and what makes others wasteful?

If I had to narrow it down, it would be one thing: USE VALUE.

Spending four years on a university campus gave me plenty experience with giveaways, freebies, and survey-incentives. The best were those that required minimal effort, offered instant rewards, and provided something I could actually use.. 

Companies that stood out: Windows 8, who gave away grocery and LCBO gift cards for watching their demo and filling out a survey; PINK, who set up a prize wheel and caused pandemonium by giving away t-shirts, gift cards, and stuffed dogs; campus clubs that offered water bottles or travel mugs.

Companies that blur together and/or stood out for sucking: Pledge, who didn’t seem to know why they were there and weighed me down with a pet hair cleaning tool; various websites that forced surveys by hiring students (can’t say no to a friend!) for some future/did it ever happen iPad draw; frosh week grab bags that had too much packaging and too little pay off.



Here’s my list of Dos and Don’ts for freebies:

DO: Focus on technology.

Let’s be honest, we’re all addicted. If you give me a screen cleaner, USB, extra charger, cable, or multi-purpose item (i.e. KEYCHAIN USB WHATWHAT) then chances are I will use it at least once before misplacing the tiny item or forgetting about it until I clean out my desk drawer. Bottom line: these things are easy to lose and, therefore, having an extra one is always appreciated.

DON’T: Try to giveaway clothes.

Sunglasses get a pass, because everyone loves those coloured-arm, Rayban-ish free ones. Hats, maaaybe (likely only 5 of the people who get it will look good in it). T-shirts? HELL NO.

A) Fashion taste is so subjective that you’re bound to lose part of your audience.

B) Your size selection is alienating people. No matter what. 

DO: Step away from all branded errything.

I get it, marketers. Plaster your freaking logo everywhere and I’ll remember that you gave me free stuff. But if you can only afford to give me a keychain – even if it’s a flashlight too, which I have about 984384 of – I’m not going to think much of it, or your brand. However, you’ll notice above that I did remember Windows 8. Their takeaway wasn’t branded, but it had such a high use value and appeal to the student population ($10 off my groceries = $10 towards beer, hell yes I will listen to your demo) that they bought 5 minutes of my time. But seriously, thanks for the keychain. Sometimes I can’t see in my purse.

DON’T: Give me something larger than my hand without a (reusable) bag!

You’re not going door-to-door handing this stuff out. You’re in a high-traffic location or at an event and there’s definitely going to be some travel time involved before I can put it down. If it’s any bigger than my hand, chances are it won’t fit in my pocket, may not fit in my purse or bag, and I’m not going to want to carry it around all day. Plus, the tote bags are relatively cheap, easily branded, eco-friendly, and USEFUL!

DO: Food.

People live off it. It’s pretty hard to mess up. That being said, that free food should be individually packaged – I don’t want your grubby brand ambassador’s hands all over it for hours on end.

DON’T: Just give me stuff.

This is totally dependant on what you’re giving away, where you’re giving it, and what your goals are. But, generally speaking, if it isn’t for charity, you’re probably hoping for some data/an increase in sales/interests/some action from the freebie recipient.

Have you ever tried giving people things for no reason? If I try to pass on a coffee card in line, or give away my subway pass, people are extremely skeptical to take it. Why? BECAUSE YOU DON’T GET SOMETHING FOR NOTHING. People expect this, so you may as well capitalize on it. Just don’t take more than 5 minutes of my time. Or touch me.


Pretty hard to complain about free stuff, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. What’s your most memorable and/or useful giveaway?


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