Reciprocity and the Promotional Item

You may be wondering why the promotional item can be such a successful tool for branding and marketing. There are some of the obvious, skin-deep reasons. If people use the product a lot, they’ll see your brand name often and you’ll be on their mind. However, the most important reason to know is actually much more scientific and impactful than that. It turns out, the promotional item plays on an evolutionary instinct of humans.

According to psychologist Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, human beings are hard-wired to feel that favors need to be returned. He calls it reciprocity. Back in ancient times, being willing to help our fellow man and trust them to help us in return was a critical survival skill, and it’s something that still causes us to respond quickly.

The most surprising thing is that even very small gifts can trigger the response, which is why you can get so much of an impact from such a cheap promotional item. As it turns out, giving someone a pen isn’t all that far behind giving them a big gift in terms of reciprocity. They’re going to be significantly more likely to do you a favor in the future, and the favor you’re looking for is their business.

This psychological impact of gifts is why you receive so many small gifts in the mail, sometimes even a dollar to try to get you to complete a survey. Another interesting thing is that the promise of gifts isn’t as likely to get you to take action.

For example, how often have you gone to the drive thru of a restaurant or been told by a cashier that you can get something for free for taking an online survey? How many did you actually fill out? If they gave you that gift up front and asked you to take the survey, they’d get a much better response rate according to Cialdini’s research.