2 min read

Giveways are a tell-tale sign

Are vendors trying to buy their way into their clients' hearts?

A trade show with a properly qualified audience, such as those wrapped around user conferences, can be marketing education. For example, one sure way to tell how hot a technology is (or isn’t) is by looking at what exhibitors are offering as giveaways and as prizes in their draws and at how many visitors take the bait.

Since the goal is to lure in as many entrants (and thus future sales leads) as possible, the goodies tend to be the most desirable toys possible within the exhibitor’s budget.

For the past couple of years, everywhere you looked at a show, there would be a draw for an iPod. Although there were few such draws offered by the 300-plus exhibitors at Oracle OpenWorld last month, a new prize seems to have captured their imaginations: the portable GPS. In a totally unscientific survey conducted as I wandered the show floor, I concluded that GPS units were the lure of choice to get people into booths. The iPod, it seems, is passé (or else the market is totallysaturated).

Of course, they weren’t the only compelling goodies in the place, and it was interesting to see which ones generated booth traffic. Several exhibitors told me that they offer a different stuffed toy every year (branded, of course) to visitors who sit through a marketing presentation, and that some of their customers actually collect the critters. RFID vendor Data Systems International, for example, was giving away an overall-clad teddy bear (more macho, I was assured, than last year’s bruin, though no-one could explain what teddies have to do with RFID in the first place), and another company was not only giving away a stuffed tiger, it had a display case showing off its menagerie of a decade’s worth of plush felines. It’s a great way to make sure people come back to hear about the latest and greatest.

I also spotted screaming monkeys, toads (that’s the product name, honest – Toad), and tiny rubber duckies holding laptops, all prominently labeled to keep the exhibitor top-of-mind among prospects. Environmentally-friendly cloth bags often replaced plastic sacks – a great choice, since they’re reusable and easy to pack.

Shirts and mugs, once the mainstay of trade shows, were in short supply, but pens were everywhere. Some exhibitors, alas, missed the point entirely, not printing enough information on the pen to make it useful as an advertorial (a company name on its own is usually insufficient).

One of the most inspired trade show exhibits I’ve ever seen, however, involved an outrageous marketing campaign by security vendor Fortify. At Sun’s JavaOne conference last summer, Fortify had citizens of the mythical country of Hackistan (whose main industry is hacking) trying to prevent people from visiting its booth because, they said, Fortify was destroying Hackistan’s economy by securing its customers’ applications.

That booth was even drawing other exhibitors.

The company supplements the campaign with an elaborate Web site (discoverhackistan.com) that is great fun to browse. And the fact that a visitor like me remembers the details after six months and several other shows makes it a success – with no toys at all.