Are Trade Show Giveaways Worth It?

March 28, 2016
Steve Multer

If you have to do it, you might as well do it right

Pens, stress balls, thumb drives, T-shirts, Starbucks cards, selfie sticks, tablets, smart watches, drones… Walk down any aisle at any trade show and you’ll see attendees (and locals who’ve nabbed a free pass or swiped a badge from the trash) lugging tote bags and even suitcases filled with swag, logo wear, and toys given out or raffled off by exhibitors hoping to attract crowds and quality leads. Trade show giveaways are big business. But are they good business? Answer: It depends.

Karen & Steve Multer join Hopper for a presentation on DISH DVRs and the power to watch and record up to 16 programs at the same time

Hopper gives away stuffed joeys at CES

One thing is clear; event swag is expected and here to stay. Giveaways definitely draw attention and can get an otherwise reluctant attendee to commit to a demo or theater presentation when no other strategy will succeed. When it comes to swag (Stuff We All Get) you have to do it, so you might as well do it right.

In a March 12, 2016 blog for the Trade Show News Network (TSNN) Emily Long discusses the 3 Characteristics of an Effective Trade Show Giveaway (

“You’ve heard it before. Branded giveaways are a great way to make an impression at trade shows.” While I agree with this notion, I think it can be a little misleading. Branded swag will, of course, make an impression on trade show attendees, but it may not always be the impression you intend. Perhaps your last giveaway ended up in the convention center trash cans because the gift did not resonate well with your target audience. Promotional items that are too generic, or swag that does not offer some sort of benefit to recipients, tends to be ineffective. So how can you get more bang for your buck when creating branded giveaways?

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So are trade show giveaways worth it?

In a November 2013 blog, Maggie Jones writes, “Even if a person has only a fast interaction with your swag – say, they glimpse an employee wearing a branded t-shirt at the gym, or they “accidentally” steal a branded pen from your lobby – you’re creating some level of brand familiarity.” Good point. She goes on to offer, “When you give people things, you tap into the human impulse to reciprocate. As Dr. Robert Cialdini writes in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, it doesn’t matter how big or small your gift is – when you give someone a gift, they want to give one back. This can be huge for your lead generation efforts. People reciprocate by letting you scan their ID badge and collect their personal data (i.e. name, company, and contact info).”

There are no real metrics

The first thing to understand is that nobody can honestly tell you what measurable response you’ll see from offering a booth giveaway at your trade show. There’s no method for connecting free tchotchkes to signed deals so if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, thank them and walk away. The giveaway is to attract attention only, not to close a sale. Which brings up an important consideration that should be addressed when strategizing post-event scheduling.

More scans equals more work but not necessarily more success

A booth giveaway will almost certainly increase your number of show scans, but randomly and without qualification. It’s possible to use a measurement firm for scan interviews or to capture answers to two to four questions on a lead device like a handheld scanner/smartphone or tablet, but it’s time-consuming and not always effective.

If you typically scan 500 attendees, and the giveaway helps drive that number to 1500 scans, consider the additional time your team will need to input, assess, and contact each of those scanned attendees following your event. None of them have been properly pre-qualified so one scan is like another, with no strong correlation to your product or categorization for touchback. More scans can net more opportunities or devour a whole lot of fruitless follow up time.

Target giveaways to your customer and the event

Even small giveaways do best when they’re useful, practical, and targeted to your event or attendees. Everybody likes unique gadgets. Food is universal, and creative packaging can draw people to your booth again and again. Designers an tech geeks love t-shirts and proudly wear them to public venues for weeks or even years after a trade show – but only if the design is cool and the fabric is comfortable. You don’t have to spend a fortune on your swag, but you should spend it with thought.

A cheap shirt becomes a car wash rag after the first two wearings. A 2-gig low storage thumb drive is given to the kids or tossed in a drawer. Flimsy plastic swords break an hour after the attendee leaves your booth, or gets crushed in the overhead bin on the flight home. Saving money on your swag can assure that swag finds a trash can rather than a coveted place in your potential customer’s backpack.

Good things come in small packages

This is a two-front cliche. Small giveaways are easy to ship, display, hand out, and for the attendee to carry away with them after they win. No exhibitor likes to ship a giant toy to a drawing winner, and no winner wants to wait for their prize to arrive at their doorstep. By then they’ve forgotten the excitement of winning, and the booth that gave away the drone or rc truck. Once you announce the attendee’s name, pull their ticket, or sign the deal, let them walk away with the gift in their bag.

Large giveaways are proven to be no more successful than small ones; it’s not the size or cost of a giveaway that matters, but the act of offering something for nothing. Small, comparatively inexpensive (but still quality) swag nets equal or even better quality leads than large, costly items which are offered more to be flashy and show off.

Sophos at Gitex, Dubai

Who wants giveaways???

When a booth offers a car, there are two truths at work; they have nothing else to brag or talk about, and your odds of winning are slim to none. That car will indeed be given away, but based on scans from dozens of events, not the one you attend. A t-shirt gets the same scan a car will.

Order extra, don’t run out

This seems like obvious advice but it often goes unheeded. Running out of your giveaway is a no-no and attendees don’t take kindly to it, even if they say they understand and leave with a smile on their face. The last person in your booth deserves the same care and attention as the first person – be sure you’re prepared to give it to them, even if it means shipping some stock back for the next event.

Ordering swag is guesswork when it comes to quantity. If you received 1000 scans last year and give out one prize per scan you can’t order 1000 giveaways and expect to reach the last hour of your event with stock in hand. Hopefully you increase those scans to 1500 this year. Even if you don’t, some attendees take two (or ten when you aren’t looking, or your sales rep hands out extras after their demo.) T-shirts come in multiple sizes and people want to choose their fit; most need large or extra large which vanish quickly leaving you with boxes of smalls and mediums that don’t work for many audiences. Order extra, don’t run out, and someone from your events department will put those extra to good use on the next show if any end up in storage.

Have a question? Ask SKM Creative.

SKM Creative is on trade show floors worldwide 30-60 times throughout the year. We’ve served the world’s top brands and multinationals for over 15 years, providing the best trade show and event spokespeople, ambassadors, crowd gatherers, and product demonstrators to savvy marketing managers in the US and around the world. Even if you use another agency’s services, call us anytime with questions or ideas – we’re here to help!