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.