The goal of any advertising campaign is to get more customers, more traffic, or more attention. Unfortunately, advertising is very expensive, and sometimes doesn’t quite fit into the plans for many business owners. You know it’s important, but it may be more important to pay the power bill. This week I want to share a trick that most of us have already seen, but few businesses choose to utilize it. The value of your own product.

I had a friend in sales that had a good answer when a client would tell him radio didn’t work. He would ask the business owner if it was ok if he ran an ad stating that he was giving away his product for free. Inevitably the client would say “No, don’t do that!” In one quick move he had proven the clients belief that radio does work. If you gave your product away for free, the message would be heard, and you’d have a mob to deal with. This is where I get excited. Why is it a bad thing to broadcast a message like that? Anything worth buying is worth having for free right?

Let’s go back to the goal of advertising once again. You want more customers, more traffic, and more attention. Why should it matter that those three things are garnered by offering your product for free? I’d argue it’s less expensive in some cases than actually advertising your product.

A few years back KFC ran one commercial during the Super Bowl offering every person in America one free piece of chicken the next day. It was for a new recipe and they wanted to get the product out there. That one commercial cost around a million dollars to air. The product they gave away was worth pennies to them. But, they got them into the hands of customers faster and cheaper than they could have by running a long nationwide advertising campaign. A million bucks is expensive to you and me, but it isn’t expensive for a campaign that size. In the end, KFC spent their money on free chicken rather than advertising. Advertising is much more expensive than chicken.

We see these campaigns every so often, but almost always with big companies. When McDonalds wanted to compete with Tim Hortons for coffee supremacy, they offered it for free. When Tim Hortons wanted to compete with McDonalds for breakfast sandwiches, they did the same thing. I’ve heard every radio station in a city talk constantly about 7-11 because they happen to be offering slurpees for free on a hot summer day. How much does a Slurpee cost 7-11? How much would hundreds of liners, endorsements, and advertisements on a dozen radio stations cost? You do the math.

So, how does this knowledge help you? Here’s what you need to consider

  • Product – Do you have a product with a small enough cost that it’s feasible to give away instead of buying more advertising space?
  • Frequency – You need to get the message out there. And no, you don’t have to buy a spot during the Super Bowl. I would suggest advertising on one of your local radio stations for one day or one week. Whatever you can afford. Buy a good amount of frequency. For one day, or one week, you should be able to outspend Sleep Country in advertising dollars.
  • Timing – Get the most bang for your buck. Take 7-11’s marketing advice for free. Advertise free Slurpees on the hottest day of the year.
  • Expect problems – Nothing will go as smoothly as you like it. You will attract some weirdos by offering your product for free. Grin and bear it. The other 95% of people are potential return clients.
  • Know when to turn the tap off – The good thing about radio (as opposed to Groupon) is you can shut it down. If demand is too high, you can cut your advertisements. If you’re worried about the crowds being too big, you can add a deadline.

I hope this has been inspiring to you. Not enough small businesses use this strategy. KFC, McDonalds, and Tim Hortons have smart marketing professionals working for them. Take their advice. You don’t have to roll it out on the scale that they do. With radio, there’s always a way to tailor the campaign to your business. If you need help adapting this style for your business, just send me an email to I’d love to help out.