3 Cool Promotional Giveaway Ideas That Actually Work

There are certain brands that follow you around all day every day.  Robert W. Woodruff famously ensured there was always a cold coke “within arm’s reach of desire.”  There’s usually a coke ad even closer.

We’re saturated with marketing messages.

How is a small business supposed to compete with the noise of big brands screaming all day at us through every screen?  Promotions have to be cool and cost-effective.  They have to come from creative ideas that put your product front and center in its best light in front of your best potential customers as close to the point of purchase or re-purchase as possible.

It can be done.

Promotional giveaways can still be cheap and effective marketing, if conceived strategically.  I believe that:

  • Promotional giveaways can influence our opinions
  • Promotional giveaways can be aspirational products in their own right
  • Promotional giveaways can be sticky and stay with us for years
  • Promotional giveaways can be timely and be there when it’s time to make our next buying decision

I’d like to illustrate with promotional giveaway gambits that work on me in my everyday life.

Idea 1: Whispers, “Come back soon”

Full Circle Bookstore Bookmark

This bookmark is wonderfully designed and printed on good quality card.  I like it so much that it follows me from book to book.  Now it’s stained and crumpled, folded and the edges are frayed.  It’s from my favorite local bookstore which really has it all: a welcoming space with fireplaces, free coffee, every kind of comfortable seat, bench and armchair, as well as friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Every time I buy a book from Amazon I move this bookmark into the pages.  And I feel bad (according to a recent study of U.S. Census data by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in Washington, brick and mortar retailers employ 47 people for every 10m revenue; Amazon employs 14).  I just saved a few dollars, but I also cheated myself out of a visit to my favorite bookshop, out of their cafe & patio, the great service, the local bulletin board, the cappuccino bar, the rolling freaking ladders.  I’m reminded of these things every time I read a book, because the words are right there around the border of my favorite bookmark.

Idea 2:  Gets me advocating

Mozcon 2013 t-shirt, geek-cool

T-shirt marketing is as old as the hills, and mostly it’s a waste of money.

There are a dozen ill-fitting t-shirts in my draw.  All of them given to me by brands I don’t care about, don’t want to endorse, and frankly nobody would care if I did.

What makes this conference t-shirt any different?

  1. It’s well designed
  2. It fits because they asked me what size I am when I bought my ticket.
  3. It’s a 50 50 American Apparel t-shirt, the best t-shirt on the planet.
  4. It was given to the 1200 internet marketers who attended the conference.  Moz is an internet marketing tool-set so it’s worth them investing in quality to get us wearing them rather than throwing them in draws.  Why?  Because people actually care what internet marketing tools the people who attended that conference endorse.

The t-shirt I got from this conference actually hangs in my wardrobe with other t-shirts I like to wear.

50 50 t-shirt by American Apparel

When it came time to launch Confluence conference I not only used American Apparel shirts, I also contracted a local t-shirt shop in the Plaza District (where the conference was held) to do the printing.  I asked them to take pictures of the process and ended up with some amazing artwork for our website.

Confluence logo emerges for printing on our American Apparel t-shirts

They also put the pictures up on their own website, linked to our site and tweeted about the printing to their 3,900 followers, giving our marketing a nice little boost since their customer demographic scans really well with the Confluence target audience.

tree-and-leaf-t-shirt-printing-twitter (1)

Idea 3: Lets me brag a little, and lets me be me

OG&E Wind Power Window Cling

Okay, Oklahoma Gas & Electric isn’t a small business, they’re a state regulated monopoly.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t get it right from time to time.

They have a product, which for a few extra dollars a month allows you to convert all of the electricity you use in your home to wind power.  Sounds cool.  My friend Dan Lovejoy works for OG&E and has assured me that the more popular this product becomes the more wind power OG&E will have to acquire.

When I got the window cling I was excited.  The product is so intangible that something tangible felt lacking.  Now my home has a badge.  A way for me to brag and potentially influence friends and neighbors to go a bit greener too.

I’d really like to get an electric car, which would then be wind powered.

Missed opportunity

However OG&E missed a massive opportunity on their website.  After I had signed up for the program there were no social sharing buttons.  A strong call to action along the lines of “Tell your friends that your home is now 100% wind powered” could get hundreds of people advocating and advertising on Facebook and Twitter and create a lot more demand for this product.

People clearly want to, people like this guy.


That the last tweet I could find about this was more than a month old says something.

Thrive in saturated waters

How many advertising messages is the average American exposed to in a day?  30 years ago it was 3,000 if you lived in a city, more recently it reached 5,000.  Our resistance to marketing has reached an all-time-high.

But clever promotional giveaways can still work.  They can be cool, they can even be cheap, they just need to be well thought out.  Invest time in your idea before you invest your money.  And as always iterate to success.

In brief promotional giveaway items should be:

  1. There when it’s time to make another purchase
  2. For proven consumers, potential consumers and influencers
  3. Desirable.  Sometimes cheaper means less volume and more quality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *