Low-quality giveaways can “backfire strongly” on brands and have a negative impact that is more memorable to consumers than receiving high-quality items, a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has found.

“Even though distributing giveaways is a generous gesture by the sponsor, it can backfire strongly,” Samuel Stäbler, an assistant professor of marketing at Tilburg University, explained.

His results indicated that consumers “more likely will recall the sponsor brands of low-quality giveaways than of high-quality giveaways.

“Even worse,” Stäbler continued, “low-quality giveaways lower the consumer’s attitude toward the sponsor brand. In combination with certain types of giveaways (e.g., matchboxes), the negative effect is even stronger.”

These findings drew on two studies that were discussed in a paper entitled, Why cheap, low-quality giveaways are bad for brands: Quality of freebies drives consumer attitudes, but personalization can help.

A total of 678 respondents took part in the first round of analysis, which tested the impact of using various pens and matchboxes – of high, intermediate and low quality – as giveaways, and a control group that received no gratis item.

This element of his research was applied to two brands: Coca-Cola, the soft drink, and Maaaker.de, a fictitious startup that, contributors were informed, sold furniture online.

Participants who were given a pen then read an article about the brand associated with the giveaway, before answering a series of questions about the piece they read using this writing instrument.

For the individuals who received a box of matches, they solved a challenge that involved glueing a puzzle onto some paper using a candle.

Both sets of respondents then filled out a questionnaire of a computer that assessed topics like recall of the brand that sponsored the giveaway, and attitudes towards that brand.

A second study, with 114 people, used the same questionnaires and metrics, but only offered high- and low-quality pens that featured the Coca-Cola name, and were also imprinted with the name of the research participant.

The overall results from the two rounds of analysis found that a high level of brand familiarity offered no protection from the negative outcomes of low-quality giveaways.

Normal high-quality giveaways, by contrast, did not improve attitudes towards the brand, suggesting this approach should be considered carefully.

One way that brands can benefit, however, is with giveaways that are personalised (such as by featuring an individual’s name) and high in quality. This approach yielded higher recall than a non-personalised alternative.

“This result underlines that companies need to put effort and resources into creative advertising techniques to enhance consumer perceptions,” Stäbler wrote.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff