The Power of "Free"
Yesterday was the first day of spring, which in Philadelphia meant that Rita's gave away free water ice (or Italian ice if you are not from the Philly area). Last year they handed out over 1.2 million cups of water ice in 10 hours, and that was on a first day of spring that was cold and rainy. This year they probably gave away even more because it was a gorgeous 70 degree day. This mass freebie campaign might seem a bit extreme, especially for a franchise company like Rita's, but the company has been doing it for over 19 years and remained successful. It serves as a welcome to warm weather and the only two seasons Rita's is open (spring and summer). It also ensures visitors keep Rita's in mind any time they want a cold treat. Because the franchise is only open for half the year, the "First Day of Spring" promotion keeps it relevant year after year.
Giveaways do not just work for eateries. Movie marketing relies heavily on free paraphernalia. The Hunger Games film, based on the book series by Suzanne Collins and expected to gross the same or more than Harry Potter and Twilight, comes out this Friday. To date, the film has passed out over 80,000 posters, posted all PR videos and previews on YouTube for free viewing, and given away countless movie tickets on media websites. This does not include the non-freebies like a nail polish line, magazine covers and costume replicas. The movie is, as New York Magazine's Vulture put it, "a publicity machine."
In a time when the government is cracking down on promotional spending (Read Kyle's blog on Swag to see how it impacts the industry) and salespeople are questioning the use of giveaways, you should use Rita's and The Hunger Games as examples. Their marketing campaigns are not only working, they are given them millions in profits (in the case of The Hunger Games, probably billions).