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It might be hard to believe, but as a business giving things away for free is actually pretty tricky.
The start point of a giveaway is, at least, simple: “Basically,” explains Meg Pope, co-founder of Bristol marketing agency Duchess Media, “people love free things”. Get it right, she says, and your brand or product could hit pay dirt. “It’s a very quick win when it comes to making noise and building a brand.”
One of Duchess Media’s clients, the upstart Bristol pizza chain Pizzarova, has created a large profile with its pink card giveaway. The Wonka-esque pink card gives its holder free pizza for life. Anytime, at any Pizzarova location.
A pink card giveaway day, which takes the form of an Easter egg hunt, sets Bristol’s Twitter alight. The social reach, according to Pope, frequently goes over several hundred thousand people across the different social channels.
It’s been a huge success, she says, because it “always gets the same reaction: surely it’s too good to be true?! People always expect a catch and are always so impressed that there really aren’t any.”
Another Bristol brand, Pieminister, has had similar success with giveaways, albeit they’ve gone for quantity. “Sometimes in the cooking process, the base or the lid split open,” explains Romany Simon, Pieminister’s head of PR. “We call them smilers. They’re perfectly good to eat - but they don’t make the grade for the shops or the independent retailers we sell to.”
These pies, when found, are immediately frozen. “We have a cost we set against that, so we know how much that frozen pie is worth,” says Simon. Pieminister has used these smilers to become the de facto non-profit caterer, giving them away to a variety charities and community events.
“We realised last year, though, that not everyone knows we do this. So A. people don’t to get in touch with us, and B. it’s good for a company to show people that we’re nice, too.”
So last year Pieminister established “Little acts of Pieness” and “Black Pieday”. For Little acts of Pieness, anyone could apply for up to 250 pies to use for any not-for-profit event. “The only stipulation is they have to cook the pies themselves and collect it from one of our restaurants. It’s actually very cost efficient thing for us to do.”
As for Black Pieday, Pieminister twisted the consumerist deluge of Black Friday into a charity fundraiser. “We took a consumer event that’s about buying lots of stuff you don’t need and we said, ‘we’re gonna give away our pies and we’d like you to give a donation.
“It’s a win-win. We raised over £5,000 for Shelter. And, when people try our pies, they’re generally impressed and could easily become new customers.”
With giveaways, a go big or go home ethos is what’s needed, says Duchess Media’s other founder Frankie Wallington. Pizzarova’s giveaway has flourished, she explains, because it’s something different and on a big scale. “It’s literally a game changer if you win it, which is why people go so nuts.
“Just giving stuff away can be dangerous as it can cheapen what you offer so if you're going to do it, it’s got to add value or there’s no point to it.”
There may also have to be some adjustment in hindsight, too. Pizzarova initially offered, perhaps somewhat optimistically, no limit on amounts for pink card holders. “We did have to make some addendums to the T’s and C’s,” says Pope, “such as a max number of pizzas ordered, but even still, they will flex on these if people call in advance and let them know it’s a special occasion.”
“Yes, there have been a handful of people who have taken the mick but the benefits have massively outweighed these. It’s given Pizzarova a unique identity which they would never have had before and it obviously helps that their product is good, so once people try it through winning one of the comps they tend to go back.”
The trend with giveaways is now to avoid monetary prizes. According to Abi Roman, marketing manager of promotions company PromoVeritas, “things” have a far greater resonance with consumers. “The more creative the prize, we’ve found, the more people are going to enter. You want to create sensationalism.”
It’s the perceived value rather than the actual value, agrees PromoVeritas’s head of sales Gemma Cutting. With giveaways, more prizes that have a smaller monetary cost remain the most simple and effective route. She adds: “It very much depends on what the objective of the promotion is and what the prizes are. If you’re giving away collectables, definitely give it away to more people. It’s more exposure.”
Giving away one prize or perhaps a handful of things requires more thought, according to Cutting. Some brands, like Pizzarova’s pink card, have had great success, but there may also be a negative impact on entrant numbers as a single prize feels less attainable.
To combat consumer indifference, social channels offer a free way to drum up hype. “It’s a really cheap and effective way to do it,” says Roman. “We find big companies and small companies alike are doing it. The mechanics of doing them are becoming more exciting. Live streaming, for example.”
For Pope and Duchess Media using social media for giveaways allows them to be very nimble. “We can get the giveaways out really quickly and we’ve started using tools such a Facebook Live to live stream them now, which gives them an extra level - people seem to really enjoy the humour of seeing people running around in a bid for free pizza.”
As far as regulation, the UK has the advantage of having a self-regulated advertising sector that falls under the auspices of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). The ASA also regulates promotional activities like giveaways.
“The ASA’s provides rules, not legislation, it isn’t part of the government,” says Roman. “The UK’s advertising is more creative than many other countries. Some companies, like Brewdog, do things where they’ve sailed too close to the wind, but then they just get their knuckles rapped.”
It’s not the Wild West, though. “You need to have terms and conditions. These need to be explicit,” says Roman. “If you’re not sure, just phone up the ASA and ask, ‘I’m thinking of doing this’, and they can tell you. They’re very fair.”