Freebies Our Household Will Never Need Again

free calendar

…thank you? I’m not required to treasure it always, am I?

When I was a kid, no one ever warned me about all the free calendars we’d receive in the mail every year. And everyone needs a calendar, right? It’s handy reference material you can nail onto your wall for easy glancing whenever you need to center yourself at a fixed point in time, or for scribbling reminders of important future dates. As an added bonus, the good kind of calendar comes with twelve free mini-posters to liven up your living space and remind you of things you like. While today’s smartphones can duplicate most calendar functions and render them mostly obsolete, they make terrible wall art because of their miniature nature and their resistance to clean nailing.

In my mind, an effective calendar needs to contain enough artistic merit that I’ll want it in my presence for twelve straight months. It helps if its content is somehow related to any of my interests at all. Free calendars, which are nearly always a promotional giveaway in honor of someone’s product that I’m probably not buying, are not consequently never my thing. Exhibit A: the example shown above, which landed in our mailbox today as a token of good will from representatives of certain non-renewable energy concerns. Because all my friends know my name is synonymous with “geek pipeline safety”.

My wife and I are at an age now where freebies no longer mesmerize us as much as they did when we were young and living in barren, lower-class apartments. It’s nice that so many companies want to shower humans with gifts — whether at geek conventions, at booths at the Indiana State Fair, at trade shows, by mail, or what have you. Companies believe that free stuff is great customer bait. Sometimes that’s true, but when everyone is giving away the same free items, over time that junk adds up and threatens to turn into another collecting habit or a symptom of hoarding issues.

This is how we usually end up dealing with these unsolicited bagatelles:

1. Place item on the same table spaces where we stack our mail, coupons, flyers, and absentmindedly saved receipts.
2. Wait anywhere from one month to ten years.
3. Throw said bagatelles away.

Congrats to all those entrepreneurs on a marketing budget well spent. It’s a safe bet that I had no use for your primary product, either.

Free calendars aren’t the worst offender by far. Frankly, I don’t care if we’re ever offered any of the following, easily mass-produced merchandise every again:

* Tote bags. Sometimes these are handy at conventions if we’re experiencing backpack issues, or if I go overboard on comic-book back-issue purchases and need the extra baggage. For one-time situational use, I have no problem with them. But I don’t need a dozen of them. We just shipped off several of these in our most recent Goodwill donation batch because we’ll never need to do that much carrying all at once. Honestly, I’ve kept the option in mind for years in case we ever had a true toting emergency, but I’m beginning to think that toting emergencies are just a myth.

* Temporary tattoos. I don’t even have any real tattoos, let alone a yearning to decorate my skin with tiny washable billboards. Few are the aging males who get a kick out of them. I’d much rather have free stickers.

* Stickers. Oh, wait: no, I wouldn’t. I haven’t owned a Trapper Keeper in decades and don’t have many other objects in drastic need of festooning. I have an old suitcase covered with souvenir bumper stickers, but it ran out of empty space long ago, plus I don’t use that suitcase anymore so stickers are basically wasted on it unless I want to start covering up the older stickers. I’ve amassed a pile of stickers of really cool things like Harvey Pekar and They Might Be Giants, but they’re all set aside and still on their original backing paper because I have no idea where to affix them. Heck, I could probably assemble an entire scrapbook out of Kickstarter reward stickers alone.

* Lip balm. Maybe other people use up more than one tube of Chapstick every five years. I wouldn’t know. I’m not them.

* Pencils. My high-school art-class days are behind me, and my son prefers mechanical pencils. I suppose we could stuff them in our nephews’ Christmas stockings if they hadn’t all recently been introduced to the world of handheld tech and consequently renounced any and all worldly possessions that don’t come in the form of games or downloads.

* Postcards. Things for mailing? Aww, how quaint. Those’ll go great with our mailing labels, index cards, paper clips, 3-hole punch, and other office supplies that make excellent dust-catchers. My wife sometimes sends postcards to relatives while we’re on our road trips, but she buys them from wherever we’re visiting. Bringing along our own postcards defeats the purpose and makes us look homesick.

* Squeeze bottles. We have two cabinet shelves full of these. Rare are the times when we travel afar with drinks, and even rarer are my moods for drinks sipped from foul-tasting plastic containers.

* Foam pop-can holders. I’m sure the inventor of canned drink insulation was proud to have found the solution to keeping Coke from going lukewarm while it’s still in the can — by giving your can a fuzzy li’l sweater vest! Y’know how I keep my beverages from going lukewarm? By not taking three hours to finish one. I’m revolutionary like that.

Obviously this all begs the question: how can advertisers lure me in? What kind of freebies should they be offering instead?

Try these possible attention-getters:

* Bookmarks. These, I don’t mind. Old bookmarks turn dog-eared, get too many creases, lose their sturdiness, and fall apart over time. I can always use more of these, especially since I have a knack for losing them.

* Books and comics. Free reading samples of your intellectual property stand a better chance of attracting my interest than static images of your anonymous characters who mean nothing to me. Granted, they’re more expensive to produce than, say, free mini-posters I’ll never want on my walls. Ashcan comics and cheapie booklets don’t have to be a major undertaking. Even photocopied minicomics a la Matt Feazell would be welcome.

* Refrigerator magnets. These don’t come our way too often, but when they do, we have no compunction about maintaining our fridge space as a collage of scintillating crap.

* Snacks. I’ve seen a few shrewd businesses arrange for chocolates or small candies with their company name-checked on the packaging. It costs a little extra, but the technology is out there. Alternatively, bake some cookies or pastries and write your company name on them in yummy icing. Or, y’know, just hand out plain Hershey’s kisses or whatever. I promise these can be put to use. I have no idea if they’ll boost your sales or not, but to be fair, this list is more about my wants than your needs.

* Money. Why doesn’t anyone ever save on marketing expenses and just bribe me directly to try their goods or services? I won’t guarantee my immediate loyalty, but you’ll have my undivided attention for at least a minute. Use it and your budget wisely, and eliminate that pesky Madison Avenue middleman.

8 responses

  1. Totally agree with you on all of these, except the Chapstick. I go through the Chapstick. It’s a bit of a compulsion with me, you might say. But everything else, yeah, freebies non grata.


    • We currently have at least six tubes of the stuff as of today — including one with our cable company’s name on it, one with our auto insurance company’s name, and one with the name of the local jewelers that were a major sponsor for last weekend’s sci-fi convention.

      My wife’s grandmother loves using them as stocking stuffers, too. Maybe I could convince her to switch to giving out, say, ibuprofen? Or vitamins?


    • My son had a HUGE sticker problem when he was younger. He used to cover his bedroom door with them, which wouldn’t have been so bad, except we lived in an apartment at the time. When we moved out, the rental office was none too happy with us and didn’t appreciate having to scrape all those off.

      His room was like a flea market — tons of free restaurant crayons, pencils, Chuck-E-Cheese prizes, Happy Meal toys, and other trophies that don’t mean much past childhood. I was SO relieved when he finally got old enough to realize that “free” isn’t always a good thing.


  2. Just reading about Trapper Keeper and stickers brought back memories of my 5th grade sticker collection. My glitter unicorn stickers gave me something to talk about with the girls in my class. Good times indeed!


    • My teachers practically showered me with stickers back in the day — covered the outside of my Trapper Keeper and some of the folders inside! Smiley faces, rainbows, “GOOD JOB!” and “EXCELLENT!” word balloons, holiday mascots, cartoon characters, and more more more. I have to wonder if our school was subsidized by sticker companies.


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