Beggars can be Choosers?

One of the great pleasures I had while working in Santa Monica was taking my lunch out to the cliffs overlooking the beach everyday (for the one month I took a lunch). Being broke and cheap and viewing the purpose of lunch as sustenance rather than an endorphin releasing activity, I took my lunch with me. At times, I would just take the amino acids – they said they were the building blocks in high school biology, right? – of lunch and make it on the park bench.

If you’ve ever been to Santa Monica, two of the first things you would have noticed are the incredible weather and the amount of homeless people. Had I no place to stay, I’d go where it was warm and they had good food lines, too.

One day a homeless person approached me. We had a nice conversation…until he asked me for money for food. I told him I didn’t have any money, but I’d be pleased to make him a sandwich. The first road bump in our communications: he asked what kind? Shaking off my initial bristling, I told him pb&j. He said no thanks.

You say you’re hungry, I offer food, and you turn me down because it’s not surf and turf? How dare you? I told him I was no longer interested in speaking with him and the conversation degenerated into him yelling, swearing, and suggesting that I would get [deranged expletive] shot if I went to D.C. I left without thanking him for the travel advisory.

I used to fume / laugh about those salad times, but had forgotten it. Until recently. Last week a homeless person came into the office and asked to speak with me privately. Putting aside my question of how he got into the office, I said, okay. He asked for money for food. I told him I’d be pleased to give him food from my refrigerator and said that I had chicken. When he informed me of his disdain for eating our feathered friends, I noticed the alcohol on his breath and asked that he leave.

So twice now, I’ve offered beggars – in the truest sense of the word – actual food and have been turned down. I don’t know about you, but I never turned down a free meal in college and I had heat and shelter every night.

The point of today’s blog post is not to rant against the homeless. It’s a tough life and it’s hard not to imagine that most of us couldn’t be in that position if a few very bad breaks didn’t go our way. Not to mention the amount of people on the streets with mental health issues.

When you have people obviously try to scam you, though, it makes it harder to give to anyone because you constantly fear you’re getting scammed. So someone out there whose car really did just break down won’t get gas money to get home. And someone who really does just want money for food will go hungry again. I think that’s what makes me so angry about the two gentlemen referenced in this post.

What does this have to do with online marketing and free giveaways?

In my case I wasn’t impersonating a soup kitchen. The only free offer my company publicly makes isn’t for steak; it’s for free online marketing consultations. Somehow I doubt that my homeless man was responding to that offer.

But with any free offer, you need to be careful about what you promise. For example, you may offer a free Investor Package to anyone who signs up for more information. If a freebie Web site picks up on this offer, you may get flooded with sign ups – normally a good thing, but not when the people have absolutely not interest in what you’re selling. Think of your fulfillment costs.

Or maybe you offer a free consultation. In a similar situation, you may not have the staff to handle the calls. You’re in an even worse situation if you promise to spend a certain amount of time with each person. One company we work with protected themselves by limiting the time spent on the phone by saying “up to one hour” and putting qualifiers for who was eligible.

The toughest thing is if you’re doing a contest with a truly valuable prize. I ran one early in my online marketing career and didn’t spend enough time on the rules of the contest. Someone created a program that resubmitted his information every second. We kept changing the technology to make it harder on him, but he eventually won the prize and I felt complicit in cheating all the honest entry contestants who followed the spirit of the contest.

We could have used some really fancy technology – do you ever see those sign in forms that ask you to type in letters that you see in a box with a weird background? Maybe it says something like “Are you human?” next to where you type what you see.

I will use that with future giveaways, but I could have done something even simpler: include a rule that says “one entry per household”.

Giveaways and contests can be great ways to generate leads and create awareness about a new product. You just need to think everything through first before you run the contest. Look around – see what other people that run contests all the time are doing.

If you don’t, you might end up giving away 31.8% of your prizes to that guy Lazlo from Real Genius.

Justin Seibert

About The Author

Justin Seibert is the President of Direct Online Marketing. Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. He contributes a wide range of online business-oriented topics, including the subject of exporting. His contributions can be found on publications such as the Pittsburgh Business Times, Advertising Age, SES Magazine, and La Voz del interior. Justin and his family enjoy learning about new cultures during their travels.

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