Answers Training managing director Simon Naudi saw first-hand the power of the promotional giveaway while attending the International Direct Marketing Fair 2004 at Earls Court in March. "Pre-registered visitors had been offered an alarm clock as an incentive to register and the gift was running out. Grown-up men who earn small fortunes were fighting over the last few clocks which must have been valued at no more than £1.99," he recalls.
The role of promotional give-aways in the face-to-face environment needs to be evaluated carefully. The British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) argues that companies need to maintain and promote their identities as well as reward and inspire valued customers.
BPMA association manager Anne Hancock stresses that the merchandise must be appropriate to the audience and relevant to their lifestyles and aspirations. "Visitors will be given many promotional items so exhibitors must choose carefully," she warns.
Start-up companies looking to raise awareness may be tempted to give away mass-produced, low value items featuring nothing more than a logo, such as a lollipop with the company name running through it. But George P Johnson (GPJ) market strategist Nonie Hyde states: "The only memorable thing about this type of giveaway is that it's cheap and disposable, which is not the best association for any company. If start-ups are considering an exhibition give-away, at the very least it should be quirky, memorable and in line with the brand's personality."
William Holloway, managing director of promotional goody bag supplier All Bagged Up, helps clients find the most appropriate gift. "Bankers, for example, are more likely to appreciate a discreet desktop gift they can use, such as a pen," he says.
Research carried out by GPJ for IBM last year suggests that giveaways have a limited effect on visitors' buying decisions with a mere 13% of delegates at a presentation by the IT giant suggesting they were more likely to buy from the company based on promotional gifts. However, when it comes to getting across a message, promotional items do much better, with 41% of delegates saying they were more likely to remember the event's message courtesy of the free gift.
Larger and established companies, which have little need to build brand awareness, often use promotional tools to stand out in a crowded hall.
But Hyde says this can present a new set of problems. "It's hard to see how a gold lame clown or a scantily dressed woman can convey any positive brand message," she remarks. "That said, on occasion I have seen gimmicks working but in each case it is because the gimmick is closely linked in some way with the brand values."
According to Answers Training's Naudi, picking the right promotional gift is mostly common sense but not common practice.
"Useful items like mouse mats, stress balls and pocket torches, such as a Maglite, are perfect only if they are relevant to the people receiving them," he says.
"And opt for discreet branding. If you are giving away clothing ask yourself would you wear it? The best idea is to work with the organiser's pre-registration list and send out vouchers in advance that people can redeem for the item once they arrive on your stand. That way you can get a rough idea of how many items you may need to give away."