MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Gratuit. Livre. Zadarmo. However you say it, it’s free. At conventions it’s the Stuff We All Get – SWAG.
At every trucking convention, nearly every booth features some kind of giveaway, and Truck World 2018 was no different. With more than 500 exhibitors – including more than 75 companies in the two-day recruiting pavilion – my mission was clear: hit every booth and come away with as much free stuff as possible.
There was one simple rule – I couldn’t take for anything that wasn’t available to everyone. I didn’t include draws where there was only one prize awarded at the end, but did include gifts which required something from the giftee, as long as it was a simple ask and there were enough prizes for most people who completed the task. I also included prizes available only to children, although I didn’t take them home with me.
Now that the carpet has been rolled up for another year, I’m here to tell you what was on offer, and what giveaways were the best, the worst, and the weirdest.
After three days walking the 390,000 sq.-ft. showroom floor I came away with enough swag to fill more than a 42 sq.-ft space – roughly the surface space occupied by a king-sized bed – and sore shoulders from hauling it all around.
Was it worth it? I’ll let you decide.
It’s time to start the show
Truck World opened April, 19 to what was widely called the largest Thursday attendance in a long time. Among the crowd were students from Bramalea Secondary School’s Truck and Coach Engineering and Technology program, attending the show to learn more about the industry and meet perspective employers.
Vince Tesoro, 15, and Nav Dhaliwal, 15 were spotted near the Continental Tires trailer on the far side of the International Centre’s hall two, struggling to carry their overly full bags. They too were collecting giveaways.
When asked what the best pieces they’d picked up so far were, the students held up model trucks given away at the Hino booth and modeled their Western Star trucking caps with bright smiles. We traded tips for getting the best stuff and they directed me to the hockey pucks Continental was giving away before returning to the hunt.
As I approached each booth at the beginning of the day company representatives were happy to speak with me and eager to hand me whatever branded products they were giving away, but as the day wore on you could sense the exhaustion and resignation in their voices as they realized I was just there for the free goods. They were already tired of people grabbing and running.
One vendor, who asked to remain anonymous, said her booth was combating some of that by leaving the more pricey and coveted products under the counter, forcing patrons to have a conversation with company reps before they’re rewarded with the swag.
She described an encounter with an attendee who approached the booth, leaned over a table, and dumped all the pens on it into her bag by using her arm in a sweeping motion. When confronted she reportedly said “everything’s free today,” before disappearing into the crowd.
Whether the story is true or embellished in its absurdity, by the end of day one I can understand a fraction of what’s behind the action. Moving from booth to booth, keeping my eyes on the prizes, searching for something that appears to be free, a kind of mania takes over.
Will I even use that cheap lapel pin that’s being given away? Not a chance. But the kind gentleman in the booth says “take two” and suddenly I’m delighted. Our consumer-trained lizard brains are taught from birth that the only thing better than one free thing is two free things. So, of course I have to have them.
There’s a real cost to that tiny thing I will eventually discard, however. Each promotional pen – (pens are some of the least expensive items) – given away will cost the company a quarter or more to have made. Then there’s the costs to ship the pens, haul them from show to show, and the pay and travel expenses for the employee manning the booth. And we haven’t even gotten to the environmental costs.
A sudden flash of where this duplicate thing I will never use will end up, and I change my mind. Back it goes. But I keep one pin, for journalistic reasons.
As day one came to a close, rumors circulated. Had I heard that a booth was giving away packages of baking potatoes? Yes, actual baking potatoes.
The company in question, Trout River Industries, also had hockey legend and Toronto Maple Leafs alum Wendel Clark visit the booth on Thursday afternoon, offering a second giveaway of free selfies and personalized signed glossy photos.
Trout River’s marketing coordinator, Allan Clark, said the buzz generated between the celebrity sighting and the potatoes was just what the company was aiming for.
Hailing from Prince Edward Island, a province known for its potatoes, the company decided it would embrace the stereotype a few years ago and created a YouTube video featuring CEO Darrin Mitchell being pelted with spuds. Carrying that into a Truck World giveaway seemed like a natural fit.
“You know, you get the question, ‘oh you guys are from PEI, all you guys do is potatoes,’” Clark said. “We knew one of two things was going to happen. Either people were going to love it, or people were just going to laugh at it and walk away. The people have been fantastic here.”
Trout River gave away more than 500 packages containing three potatoes each over the course of the weekend.
The good, the bad, and the pens
The potatoes were definitely the weirdest gift, but what else was on offer?
Conference attendees expect pens. Writing instruments have a trifecta of being useful and used, inexpensive, and easily branded, making them a staple at any show and this one was no different. My journey through the land of exhibitors generated me a mountain of pens.
The definition of a good gift is different for every person, but in general, a good gift is something of fair to good quality that will be used on a regular basis. Using this standard, a good pen is a decent giveaway, but falls short of the goal of swag – to make a lasting impression on a potential customer.
There were a few standouts at this year’s event that left an indelible mark for me. Among the pens, candy, highlighters, phone accessories, and stress balls, four companies gave away six items that stood out.
Drive Star had attendees play a Minute To Win It-style game called Ice Road Trucker that won players a pair of branded plastic, reusable Red Solo cups with to-go lids. In addition to being a completely unique giveaway, the cups matched the theme of the game and are a genuinely useful hot-ticket item.
Husky and Volvo each gave away stuffed animals, although Volvo’s tiny moose was reserved for the playground set. The two companies were the only ones to give away stuffed animals. In addition to being adorable, the toys make great gifts for kids left behind while parents are on business trips.
Promoting their new fuel, Synergy Diesel Efficient, Esso gave away stainless steel travel mugs and gas cards. The cards get users five cents off every liter of gas for 80 liters, for a cash value of $4 each. Husky also gave users gas cards which had between $2 and $10 off a fill-up. It seems like pocket change, but for customers becoming weary at the pumps the gesture provides something of real benefit.
The white whales
A few booths strategically saved items for Saturday, the day Truck World bills as family day. When exhibitors told me their plans to reserve swag for the last day, I knew I’d have to visit every booth twice.
I waded into the crowds once again, but in addition to Volvo’s moose there were some items I just couldn’t get. Rumors and small children lead me to hall one in search of a wooden meter stick and beach balls being handed out, but they were no where to be found.
And then there was the Western Star Hat. With a black logo on a beige background, the caps had been gone since day one. Product manager Alex Lee said more than 4,000 of them were given away in the first two hours of the show.
“We were happy to provide hats and they were very popular,” he said.
The hats went home on 4,000 happy heads, but mine wasn’t one of them.
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