Tag Archives: giveaways

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #3: Checklist and logistics

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

For part 1 on what the literature tells us about giveaways, check out this blog post.
For part 2 on designing an actual giveaway, check out this blog post.

Checklist for a successful giveaway

Now you have a whole bunch of ideas. Maybe you have a clear favorite, maybe there are several. In any case, I like to make sure that my giveaway checks all or most of these boxes:

Is it actually conveying my message?

  • The message is clear both explicitly (in the text) as well as implicitly (in the form & function of the object)
  • The giveaway matches the scicomm goal that I designed it for
  • It is actually suitable for the target audience. That means for some audiences it can be funny (using plays on words or similar), while for others it should only contain facts, graphics, ….
  • It is project specific and not something that any other project would also be able to give away without everybody being completely confused about how it is related to that other project
  • It shows the concept of interest
  • It is made easy to follow up (i.e. find additional information, contact relevant people, …), so the giveaway includes a QR-code, link, or at least the search terms that will lead directly to your project’s website
  • It is something that people can easily integrate in their work/life so they see it often and are reminded of the message

Does it spark joy and the desire to keep it?

  • Something you want to keep, not eat and throw away (Non-branded chocolate hearts! Not project-branded sweets that then aren’t even any good)
  • Useful, so people like to keep it around
  • High quality product (not cheap looking)
  • Sturdy (I HATE it when the clipsy-things on pens break off right away)
  • Attractive design
  • Positive association
  • Can be kept for an appropriately long time (Doesn’t perish quickly, doesn’t break)

A couple more thing to consider: Does the giveaway suit the context it is to be distributed in? Will there be time & people power to explain what it’s all about or is there some information provided? If the giveaway is designed for a specific occasion (science day) and are there statistics on typical audiences? How do you make sure you target (and reach) only specific people, not everybody (so that you connect to the right people and don’t “waste” a lot of giveaways on people who aren’t even interested)? Is it easily mailable/transportable or does it need specialized packaging or something that makes logistics super expensive?

Basically, what I want from my giveaways is that they provide value for free, i.e. make sure your give-aways are products or services that people are happy to receive and to share. This should go without saying, but it’s scary how much stuff I have gotten over the years that I really don’t want in my life but was too polite to refuse in the situation. I have absolutely no use for ugly mugs, I have more pretty ones that I love than I could ever use in my home and my office and my imaginary holiday house (and even my even-more-imaginary seminar space in my future light house). Or key chains — is the one you are trying to give me really so awesome that you think I will be using it? Especially when it’s not even used as a lanyard for a name tag when you are giving it to me, but just an empty key chain?

Using multipliers

When gifts are given with the intention to develop an effect beyond the first level of recipient, using that recipient as multiplier, marketing principles of viral online marketing can be applied (Wilson, 2000):

  • Make it scalable so you can cope with snowballing demand. Or be aware that you might be disappointing people if they want your really cool giveaway but you’ve already run out.
  • Make it easy for the recipient to share the giveaway with others (so maybe not an exclusive dinner invitation, but rather some funny toy or a gif, link, game that can easily be shared electronically)
  • Play on motivations like greed, hunger to be popular, loved, understood to have your message shared. People aren’t sharing because you are asking them to share. If however people feel that it is making them look cool / wise / knowledgeable / whatever to share your stuff, they are going to share your stuff!
  • Place your message into existing communications between people to make it even easier to share, so use Facebook or institutional newsletters, booths at fairs that would be there whether you ask them to hand out a couple of your flyers or not, …
  • Use someone else’s resources to share your message (e.g. affiliate programs that place texts or graphics on someone else’s webpages so that someone else’s infrastructure is conveying your message)
  • Give away something that provokes reactions / initiates conversations by other people when they see it, so that recipient is often engaged in dialogue about the message, and thus is both reminded about it all the time as well as acting as a multiplier, thus doing your job for you.

Next steps

Now. Are you ready to come up with a giveaway for your project that ticks all the boxes of this and the two previous blog posts? Then you should check out #scicommchall on Monday, because (spoiler alert!) designing a giveaway will be April’s #scicommchall! :-)


Wilson, R. F. (2000) The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing. Web Marketing Today, Issue 70, February 1, 2000

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #2: Designing the actual giveaway

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

For part 1 on what the literature tells us about giveaways, check out this blogpost

Part 2: Design criteria for giveaways

Let’s assume you’ve gone through the three basic scicomm questions and know your goal, your audience, and your message:

1) Why do you want to give away a giveaway? Your goal.

2) Who do you want to reach and how will you reach them? Your audience.

3) What do you want people to take away from your scicomm activity? Your message.

Now how do you now come up with a good giveaway? I have collected a bunch of points that I think are helpful to consider in this context.

Combining the verbal message with a physical object

While giveaways don’t have to be physical objects, let’s assume that that’s what we want to give away, so people have something to take home with them, to look at, to use, to remind them of your scicomm activity or support them when engaging with your topic. So first, let’s think about what images come to mind that are relevant for your topic, then look at functions that might be connected to what you are doing.

Considering shapes / forms / images / …

It’s likely that some thought has already gone into creating a logo for your project, or an acronym, or a key visual, or some sort of visual representation. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick with that; and if there isn’t anything like that — now is your chance to come up with something!

Rapid ideation is a method that works well to come up with shapes related to a message: Come up with 30 different ideas for shapes or symbols related to your message, even if you don’t immediately see how they can be converted into a giveaway. Write them down, don’t stop before you have a list of 30! It’s amazing what you come up with once you get over the slump that happens after you’ve initially run out of ideas.

Considering functions

Now this is what I think of as the fun part: Combining the functionality of whatever object you decide to give away with the message. Or rather the other way round — figuring out what functionality would work well to remind people of your message.

For me, this leads to two main questions to ponder:

In what context do you want the recipients to be reminded of your message?

Depending on your goal, your audience and your message, you might want to bring it back to people’s attention at very different times.

Going back to the fish example of the previous blogpost, you might want to remind people of what fish to buy when they are out shopping, or maybe when they are at home, thinking about what meal to cook the next day, or maybe even when at the office, planning tonight’s dinner. For each of those cases, you would use different physical objects as your giveaways (and which one you end up choosing should really depend on good research about your audience so you know they will actually use the giveaways in the way you envision).

Here are a couple of examples (and there are probably tons more if you actually think about it): If you want to remind people of your message while they are at work, it might be a good idea to use office supplies, desk helpers, USB sticks, coffee mugs — objects that people regularly use at work. But remember, the assumption here is that this is when they make decisions about what fish to buy! If you think it’s more likely that those decisions happen when people are out, shopping, then using coin purses or those coin holders for trolleys or even canvas bags might be a better choice. And while fish-related cooking utensils are a cute idea (don’t you love kitchen gadgets??), it’s probably not the best timing for your scicomm, because the fish has already been bought at that point.

Another approach is to think about functions that are related to the message itself, not the time when you want to remind someone of the message:

What are functions related to the content of your message?

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of two collaborative research projects people at my old job were working with, one on magnets and one on materials changing properties with changing temperature. Both of those have cool applications that can easily be used in scicomm.

The one with the materials that change properties can do really cool things related to for example colors changing depending on temperature: there are all these cool “thermometers” like color-changing ducks that tell you the temperature of your bath, eggs that change color and tell you whether your eggs are soft- or hard-boiled, mugs that display different images when the contents are hot then if they are cold, or — my personal favourite — mood rings (!!!). Or if you want to make it about light changes rather than temperature changes, you could do these indicator strips for UV light that tell you when to apply sunscreen, color-changing nail polish (this actually exists!), fairy lights with sensors that come on when it gets dark, … All of these things show versions of what the research project is all about, and make great giveaways that can either raise interest or remind people of having been engaged in some scicomm related to that topic.

The collaborative research project that is all about magnets, on the other hand, could use anything related to attaching things to metal, pattern of iron filings in a magnet field, these little boards that kids have that you can draw on with a magnet.

While both of these projects have a very applied topic, but if your project was, for example, on salinity in the ocean, maybe consider nautical-themed a salt shaker branded with your project’s logo or a slogan that relates a number of shakes per cup with ocean salinity in different oceanic regions? (Now I want to design a giveaway for a project on ocean salinity just because I want to play with salt shaker ideas!!!)

Moving forward with your idea…

…is what we will be talking about in tomorrow’s blog post, that provides a checklist of things I like to make sure I have considered before committing to a specific giveaway, and then some logistics stuff to keep in mind. Stay tuned! :-)

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #1: What the literature tells us

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

Part 1: What the literature tells us about giveaways — and how I think that applies to science communication

What eactly is a “giveaway”?

In the marketing literature, giveaways constitute the “low” end of the spectrum of corporate gifts, in contrast to high end gifts like holidays in the Caribbean or cars; “generally low value, high volume, less personal items that are used mainly to promote a company’s name” (Fan, 2006). They are used because verbal communication is easy to forget while gifts, branded for example with a company’s logo, serve as a reminder of that company, which may tip a business decision in that company’s favor (Axtell, 1990, in Fan, 2006).

Most research on corporate gifts is on very expensive gifts, like cars and Caribbean vacations, and therefore deals with legal and ethical concerns. I will ignore such concerns here because I am talking about the type of inexpensive giveaways that are customary in academia: Mugs, pens, hats, flash drives, stickers, all the stuff that you will be given at academic conferences, when visiting institutions, at open days or science fairs (it’s often the exact same items given to all the different audiences).

Goals of giving giveaways

Marketing literature tells us that depending on the stages of a customer relationship, giveaways typically serve different purposes. Arunthanes et al. (1994) describe business gifts as “means of promoting products and services by strengthening relationships with customers and suppliers“. They distinguish three categories of reasons for giving business gifts relating to a company’s relationship to their customers: initiating relationships, cementing relationships and quid pro quo.

Initiating relationships

When initiating relationships, the goal is to create a positive first impression in and relationship with potential new customers, extending a gesture of good will as basis for a positive future business relationship. Fan (2006) describes this goal saying that giveaways are “used mainly to promote a company’s name”, and Beltramini (1992) describes the goal as increasing positive customer perceptions toward key product attributes.

In a scicomm context, this could mean that you want to attract a new audience to your scicomm topic — kinda like I did when I used the opening of an art exhibition to talk about physics. I was first going to continue saying “… except we would be giving them some small physical object”, but we do not even need the physical component, even a social gift of spending time, building relationship, stimulating thought might be considered a giveaway.

Cementing existing relationships

When giveaways are used to cement existing relationships, they can be used to thank clients for positive past relationships, for placing a new order or for referrals to other clients. Marchand (2017) points out that sometimes repeated (instead of one-off) gifts for might be necessary to keep up customer loyalty.

In scicomm, this might mean keeping an existing audience interested in your scicomm topic, giving people who are already interested in your science something that reminds them of how interesting it is and that they can come back to you for more cool and fun and fascinating information and discussion and engagement. So anything that they will take home and that helps them continue engaging with your topic might be in this category, like the magnifying bug viewer that you showed kids how to use and that they continue using when out and about with their parents or kindergarden group.

Quid pro quo

In the quid pro quo scenario, a giveaway is given in the expectation that the favor will be returned by the customer through other means, for example increasing consumer’s in-venue spending through sports promotions (Yukse, Smith and McCabe, 2017), or because customers have come to expect receiving gifts.

This is what I would refer to as “buying attention” — I give you a giveaway, you give me your time. Maybe this is the really flashy gadget that you get so fascinated with that you don’t even realize you are in a scicomm situation? Or a booklet that captures people’s interest? In a way, the magnifying bug viewer is also a “quid pro quo” thing, I spend money to make you look at bugs (which is what I want you to do because it’s my area of interest and I want you to get excited about it).

Anyway. No matter the stage of the customer relationship, objectives of giving giveaways can be classified very broadly into three categories: Cognitive goals (you hope they will learn something, which could be evaluated by looking at reach of a campaign, awareness of a certain product, or knowledge), behavioral goals (you hope they will change their behaviour, which you would see for example in a number of hits or downloads), and financial goals (you hope they’ll give you money, evaluated for example by the return of investment, brand equity, …) (Cruz & Fill, 2008).

What makes a giveaway successful?

Since giving and receiving giveaways has become the rule rather than the exception, givers seem to evaluate giving giveaways as overall positive and worthwhile, i.e. the objectives seem to be achievable by giving giveaways. Investigations show that business gifts are generally effective in increasing positive customer perceptions toward key product attributes, especially in the case of the low-priced product lines (Beltramini, 1992). For sports promotions, Yukse, Smith and McCabe (2017) find that promotional giveaways increase consumers’ in-venue spending intentions. These effects are explained by the principle of reciprocity, which has its theoretical foundation in the exchange theory (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005).

Dimensions of gift design: gift type and gift relatedness

Marchand (2017) describes two critical dimensions of gift design: gift type and gift relatedness. Gift types can be described in the continuum from economic gifts (where the value of the gift is in the monetary value) to social gifts (where it is about the gesture, the connection, the feelings). Gift relatedness describes the closeness of the link between a gift and the gift-giver and their products and services. Gift-relatedness is high for a company’s own products, and low for other companies’ products.

Marchand (2017) recommends economic related (e.g., coupons) and social unrelated (e.g., unbranded chocolate hearts) gift designs over economic unrelated (e.g., coupons for products from other companies) and social related (e.g., exclusive events with company chairpersons) ones. However, even though social related gifts are generally not recommended, there might be goals for which they are still well suited. For example, if the goal is to learn the needs and problems of the client, to further client-seller relationships or to close a sale, lunch, evening meals, leisure activity or parties might help achieve just that (Arunthanes et al., 1994).

One example of a gift on the economic-related-to-economic-unrelated scale in a scicomm context are little business cards with key messages of a workshop that you hand out to participants (for example which fish to buy and which to avoid). If the card is branded with your institution, NGO, project, what have you, it would be a related. If you hand out a similar card that someone else made and branded, you might still be conveying the same message about what fish are good to buy, but you might at the same time be building up someone else as the trustworthy authority on fishing, rather than having people think of you as the authority because they saw your logo every time they were making decisions about what fish to buy.

On the economic-to-social scale, economic gifts in the sense that there is a large monetary value given are not common in academia (or at least I have never received or given any). Social gifts are more common — meeting with famous scientists, guided tours through famous institutions, that kind of stuff. But I feel like with scicomm giveaways, we’d be not in the extremes on either end of this scale.

Long-term effects

Depending on the goal, in order to achieve long-term effects, one-off gifts might not be enough. Repeated gifts for customer loyalty might be necessary, otherwise, the reciprocity process could wear out (Marchand, 2017).

For scicomm, I think this might not be the case as much. Giving people pens so they remember this one phone number for your taxi company might be helpful (I know it worked for me as a kid, when the pen next to the phone (which was still on a cord) had a taxi number on it, that was the one I would use), but for scicomm I would hope that people’s engagement would not depend very much on who gives the coolest gifts. On the other hand, occasionally reminding people of your cool topics would probably not hurt, either. But then it’s not so much about “loyalty” as of being on people’s minds, which can happen by means of giveaways, but also by many different means like for example a radio interview they happen to hear or a poster advertising your open house day.

Cultural context

Gift-giving is depending on cultural context, which can have a huge influence on how a gift is perceived depending on the timing, the monetary value of the gift, the way it is being presented, or even the colors used (Arunthanes et al., 1994; for a broad overview over gift-giving across cultures check out Giftypedia, 2013).

Cultural context is always important to keep in mind, especially working in international settings such as academia. So not surprising that it might be an important consideration when designing giveaways, but worth the reminder!

Giving through multipliers

Giveaways can develop both direct and indirect effects. In the same way that it often is a successful strategy in advertising to target children for products that parents will make purchasing decisions for (not only entertainment parks etc, but breakfast cereals, cars, …) it can be a strategy to not target an audience directly with your giveaway, but use other players to bring the message to your intended audience.

When the first level recipient is intended as multiplier, Berger & Schwartz (2011) find that while products that are cued more often were discussed more frequently, more interesting (or novel, surprising, original) products did not get more word of mouth overall.

This translates well to scicomm: If a topic is cued more often, it is likely that it will be discussed more. So make sure your giveaway is something people use daily and that makes other people comment on it!

The gift giver

Determining the “audience”, i.e. who you are giving your giveaway to, also includes determining who the gift-giver is (Cruz & Fill, 2008), since the same gift received by the same person can be perceived very differently on the context the gift-giver and the gift-receiver are in. It makes a big difference to the message a gift is sending whether the source of a gift are individuals or a corporation, i.e. whose relationship the giveaway-giving is supposed to influence. A paper clip branded with the logo of an institution might be taken as sign of appreciation when used on documents sent to a coworker at a different institution. The very same paperclip might not work at all when handed out as giveaway at a science day, even if the recipient is the same person in both these example

Design criteria for giveaways

Let’s assume you’ve gone through the three basic scicomm questions and know your goal, your audience and your message, which is what you should always do first:

1) Why do you want to give away a giveaway? Your goal.

2) Who do you want to reach and how will you reach them? Your audience.

3) What is it that you want people to take away from your scicomm? Your message.

Now how do you combine the message with a physical object? That’s a very good question that I will try to answer in my next blog post tomorrow :-)


Axtell, R. E. (1990). Do’s and taboos of hosting international visitors. Wiley.

Arunthanes, W., Tansuhaj, P., and Lemak, D. J., (1994) “Cross‐cultural Business Gift Giving: A New Conceptualization and Theoretical Framework”, International Marketing Review, Vol. 11 Issue: 4, pp.44-55, https:// doi.org/10.1108/02651339410069245

Beltramini, R. F. (1992). Exploring the Effectiveness of Business Gifts: A controlled field experiment. JAMS, 87-91

Berger, J., and Schwartz, E. (2011) ,”What Do People Talk About and Why? How Product Characteristics and Promotional Giveaways Shape Word-Of-Mouth”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 38, eds. Darren W. Dahl, Gita V. Johar, and Stijn M.J. van Osselaer, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research.

Cropanzano, R., and Mitchell, M. S. Social Exchange Theory: An Interdisciplinary Review. Journal of Management, Vol. 31 No. 6, December 2005 874-900 DOI: 10.1177/0149206305279602

Cruz, D., Fill, C. (2008) “Evaluating viral marketing: isolating the key criteria”, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 26 Issue: 7, pp.743-758, https://doi.org/10.1108/02634500810916690

Fan, Y. (2006) “Promoting business with corporate gifts – major issues and empirical evidence”, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 11 Issue: 1, pp.43-55, https:// doi.org/10.1108/13563280610643543

Giftypedia (2013); http://www.giftypedia.com/International_Gift_Customs (last accessed on xxx -> print relevant pages to pdf!)

Marchand, A., Paul, M., Hennig-Thurau, T., and Puchner, G. (2016). How Gifts Influence Relationships With Service Customers and Financial Outcomes for Firms. Journal of Service Research. 1-15. DOI: 10.1177/1094670516682091

Yukse, M., Smith, R., McCabe, C. (2018) Reciprocal Intentions: Effects of Promotional Giveaways on Consumers’ In-Venue Spending Intentions: An Abstract. In: Krey N., Rossi P. (eds) Back to the Future: Using Marketing Basics to Provide Customer Value. AMSAC 2017. Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science. Springer, Cham