Good toys, bad toys

I have not carried a lunchbox since about Grade 3, but four of them arrived on my desk last week, in several different colours.

They were from eBay, and they contained an invitation to meet with the company at Comdex Canada 2002 today and discuss its plans in the electronic retail channel.

They also contained a T-shirt, complete with a Canada flag-waving moose. I received four of them because I work with several publications in our group.

No doubt some of eBay’s partners and clients received a few of these items as well. Attendees have always thought Comdex was about products, and now the organizers claim it’s about education, but it’s really one of the greatest marketing opportunities of the year. No matter how niche you are, Comdex represents a rare chance to lob your company, its products or its services at the widest-possible cross-section of CIOs, IT managers and resellers. While dozens of emerging and established companies regularly vie for the Best of Show product awards, the real competition comes as vendors try to outdo each other with the giveaways.

Early reports from this year’s show aren’t promising. “”There was squat,”” said ITBusiness.ca’s Geoffrey Downey, who reports on hardware releases today. The only thing of note, he said, was a piece of foam one company handed out that included bits of plastic that could be formed into a puzzle. Geoffrey couldn’t remember the name of the company. “”I was too busy laughing,”” he said.

T-shirts, pens and buttons are common on the show floor, but the best Comdex giveaways create their own sort of cult-like following. I remember Comdex Fall 1998 in Las Vegas, when the talked-about toy was a sort of button that made a clicking sound when you pressed on it. It was loud — it went, “”ka-CLICK!”” — and scores of them were given out over the course of four days. Walking around the Las Vegas Convention Center became an irritating quest to avoid what sounded like high-tech crickets chirping.

Better yet was a company that passed out boxes which looked like its portable scanners. The boxes had a large hole in the bottom, and the company gave out prizes to random people found wearing it. I could not believe the number of people I saw walking around with a cardboard box on their heads. You’d think by now that some jealous vendor would have indulged in the usual game of one-upmanship by passing out paper bags with some eye-holes (come to think of it, this idea might even tie in to all the security sessions. Are you listening, Symantec?).

When the chips are down, marketing budgets are usually the first things cut, and that may explain the dearth of freebies at Comdex Canada 2002. Some vendors may regret that in the long run. Although tutorials can be useful and some attendees will walk away with memories of product demonstrations, the freebies can serve as a lasting link with potential customers. People keep those T-shirts forever, especially if they go to the gym. Of the four eBay lunch boxes I received, all four shirts were stolen within days of their arrival. A few Comdexes ago Sony gave out key chains in the shape of their Memory Stick. These did a better job of reminding me of Sony’s strategy than the real thing.

Everyone wants to get something out of this year’s show, but there may be nothing they want more than something for nothing.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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