Free For All

Keep 'em coming back by offering something for nothing.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

They're politely known as " specialties" or "free gifts." I prefer to call them bribes. But whatever term you use, know that bribes are a bang-up tool for all demographic groups.

Unlike premiums, which may require a purchase, bribes are given for free. They are used to generate leads, increase name awareness, make friends, thank customers, boost store traffic, introduce new things, motivate people to act, and create an unconscious obligation to do with you.

During the '90s, the most popular bribes in the United States have been and caps, jackets, headbands, writing instruments, desk and office accessories, scratch pads, glassware and ceramics. Mouse pads and screen savers are moving up fast; so is free information.

To lure prospects with a freebie, be certain to research that freebie first. Guerrillas not only research their markets, their competition and their promotions, but they also research the best promotional items for their specific target audiences. They know problems arise when bribes aren't matched with the audience. Problems also arise if the freebie breaks or wears out in a hurry. "They gave me this free desk clock, and now it's broken! They won't get my business anymore."

Marketing people invest billions in bribes each year. Reasons: Bribes fit almost any marketing budget; they complement other media; they can be directed to selected audiences; people jump through hoops to get them. About the only disadvantage is the teeny-tiny space available to say anything to the recipient. There's usually room for your name, logo and maybe a theme line, but that's it.

Do bribes work? Well, 40 percent of people can remember the name of the advertiser as long as six months after receiving a free gift. And 31 percent still use the gift one year after receiving it.

A recent study proved free gifts not only increase mail response but also raise the dollar purchase per sale by more than 300 percent. But don't limit your thinking on ad specialties to merely the mail. Bribes are very effective at trade shows, open houses, special events and grand openings. The positive feelings they generate about your business often lead not only to but also to closer relationships . . . and guerrillas are always trying to increase the number of their close business relationships.

Once you've decided to try a bribe, ask these five questions:

1. How many people do I want to reach?

2. How much money do I have to spend?

3. What message do I want to print?

4. What gift will be most useful to my prospects?

5. Is this gift unique and desirable? Would I want it?

Then contact one of the 4,000 members of the Specialty Advertising Association International and ask to look through their copious catalogs. (You'll find specialty advertising firms in your Yellow Pages.) You'll probably be pleased at both their selection and prices.

Focus your marketing and advertising on the free gift while it's offered. If you can show a handsome color photo of the freebie, customers will be hooked by this excellent method of increasing responses, traffic, leads and profits.

Sure, some will respond to your offering just to get something for nothing. But you won't mind them once you see the awesome power of a free gift that looks and sounds exciting and valuable. A client of mine sends postcards with a color photo of the bribe being offered along with the words "A free gift for you!" Response rates are staggering. And yet, there's not a word about the company.

Every guerrilla knows the most powerful word in marketing is "free." They've learned that it correlates directly with the most powerful goal of marketing a business--profits.

Contact Source

Jay Conrad Levinson is author of the internationally acclaimed Guerrilla series of books and co-founder of Guerrilla Marketing International. For information on the Guerrilla Marketing Newsletter and other products and services, write to P.O. Box 1336, Mill Valley, CA 94942; call (800) 748-6444; or visit the Web site at (


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