Promotions can be a great boost to business and sales if done properly. However, nearly every company tries to hold some sort of promotion, and not all of them can be winners. One of the most controversial promotions to come up recently is from a RadioShack in Montana offering a free gun (the customer’s choice of a Hi Point 380 pistol or 20 gauge) to anyone who both buys a Dish Network contract and passes a background check. While it apparently has increased his subscribers, the blowback against Radio Shack, and Montana, has been quite noticeable. In the end, it is always up to the business owner as to whether they choose to assume the risk in the hopes of a great reward by the promotion’s end. But business owners can, and should, educate themselves, so here are our five worst promotional items and why we think marketing should think twice before incorporating them into any campaign.

Another present to put in your closet and never ever see again.

1. Restaurants and Promotional Food

Going to a restaurant to take advantage of a deal makes sense, and will increase a restaurant’s customer base, but two things suffer during these promotions; the restaurant’s reputation and the employee’s satisfaction. A lot of restaurants make the mistake of offering too many coupons far too often. What ends up happening is customers simply wait with the e-mail inbox open as they end up expecting some sort of deal and won’t even think about going to that restaurant without one. The second biggest problem with these promotions is the toll it takes on the employee. One anonymous Red Lobster employee posted quite the riveting explanation as to why Red Lobster servers, chefs and dishwashers all dread the Free Shrimp festival. According to them, all this promotion means is two months of soul crushing torture as they run shrimp back and forth all while enduring lower table turnover, and thus less tips. So when laying out a plan for your promotion, remember to ask yourself two questions; what will this do for repeat customers, and how will my employees handle it? A few days or a week of extra exertion on your employees is one thing, two months may be more than they want to handle.

2. Terrible, cheap pens

While on the topic of harming your company’s reputation, we should also address another terrible sin in the world of promotional items. The free pen is a pox on marketing, merely because there is no item where corners are cut more than with a free pen. If you are handing these out to customers, make sure they don’t do anything you wouldn’t want a pen to do, like leak or break or refuse to write. Chances are your customers are going to stick this in a bag or a pocket and only reach for it in a dire writing-related emergency. The last thing you want is for them to be filled with frustration because of a little piece of plastic and ink with your company’s logo emblazoned on it. A good idea is to use these pens yourself; do you like it? Would you use this pen and not want to chuck it across the restaurant after it tore a hole in your receipt? It doesn’t have to be an expensive, sleek instrument of writing, but it should be capable of just that; writing. If it isn’t, consider finding a new supplier.

3. Printers

If this one seems out of place, then you’ve likely not been to a college orientation festival or a major corporate trade show. For whatever reason, printers have become cheaper than ink. It’s just how our wonderful, futuristic world works. There are closets and closets full of printers because it is often cheaper to just buy another one than an ink cartridge. But this comes with a cost; mainly, these printers are terrible. They jam, they don’t print right, they aren’t compatible with anything made after 1995. Whatever the problem, printers have gotten a rap for being some of the worse pieces of technology around. So if you run an office supply company or a bank or simply are trying to offload your own closet full of printers by placing a corporate sticker on them and passing them out, give it another thought. These things shouldn’t be so cheap that banks and office supply stores can pass them out to desperate college students.

4. Travel spoons, thimbles and other useless things

A great question to ask yourself when ordering your knick-knacks and brickabracks is “What the heck does this have to do with my company?” We have seen companies run the gamut, passing out spoons, thimbles, moving boxes, and silverware. While that’s great for companies who sell those various products, they just leave customers with a look of bewilderment and a pocket full of worthless plastic otherwise. Just because your company’s logo can fit on these things, it doesn’t mean that it should go on them. Less is more, and while a shirt or a folder may seem boring, potential customers will be happier with something they can use than a random item a company passed out in a bid to seem edgy or different.

5. Vuvuzelas at Stadiums

These terrible, terrible, terrible little things became famous after they left millions of spectators wondering what was wrong with their TV sound system during the 2010 World Cup. It turns out nothing is wrong with the sound; instead people were purposefully making that droning sound during the matches. And they never stopped. To make matters worse, these instruments of terror didn’t go away after the World Cup. They are seen during sporting events and major gatherings everywhere, and some companies take it upon themselves to supply them to fans. Please, on behalf of the human race, don’t. They are silly and sort of topical and can even be fun to annoy friends with, but they ruin anything they are played during. Everyone within hearing distance of the annoying guy who decides to play his cheap plastic horn all day will immediately curse you and your company for giving him the ability to be such an annoyance.

So remember, with all promotional items ask yourself if giving away these things will harm your company rather than help it. Promotions are supposed to aid the law of reciprocity, enticing the people who grabbed the swag to in turn help you out by buying your product or service. Put yourself in your customer’s place, ask if your employees are willing to support this promotion, and be willing to plop down a few extra dollars to increase quality. In the end, the extra effort will be worth it and you’ll be the proud leader of a successful marketing campaign.

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