Forget the free toaster or $50 added to a newly opened checking account.
Gasoline has become the hot new promotional must-have.
As that prized commodity exceeded $4 a gallon, it has taken on celebrity status in corporate contests and giveaways. Automobile manufacturers, travel firms, even a politician and a candy company are using gasoline as part of their marketing and promotional events.
The Holy Grail of such promotions came Tuesday as hundreds of cars lined up for free gasoline at a filling station in Romeoville -- sponsored by a candy bar. One Hummer driver reportedly saved about $130 with the gimmick, sponsored by The Hershey Co.'s PayDay and Skor candy bars.
The national kickoff for the Hershey contest aimed to help fuel your appetite and your tank. But the use of gasoline as a marketing or promotional tool has been fueling a new spin on getting your attention -- and ultimately more of your dollars.
Bruce Mendelsohn, spokesman for Glastonbury, Conn.-based Marketing Research Association, notes that "substantial anecdotal evidence" indicates the more scarce the resource, the more likely companies are to use it in marketing and promotional campaigns. This is especially evident when the resource ties into the company's line of business, Mendelsohn said.
"We think it's another example of the incredibly creative ways some businesses are adapting to challenging economic circumstances," he said. "As market researchers, we're always studying and evaluating consumer behavior; we're curious to discover how successful businesses will be by using gasoline as a marketing and/or promotional tool."
Using gasoline in a contest or promotion isn't unique. Similar contests, although not as sophisticated, happened during the oil embargo in the 1970s.
On alternate rationing days, some companies conducted "Are you odd?" or "Are you even?" campaigns, seeking to draw consumers to their respective stores, Mendelsohn said.
"While there's no doubt the exponentially increasing gas prices are depleting consumers' wallets, businesses that find ways to relieve the pressure on consumers are certain to be viewed favorably by consumers and generate some media attention," Mendelsohn said.
The Hershey promotion, for example, hinged on its new "Cash 4 Gas" instant-win game, which will give away cash for more than 100,000 gallons of gasoline through December. The Romeoville kickoff offered more than 5,000 gallons of free gas to roughly 380 customers, the company said.
"High gas prices continue to be a concern for everyone and The Hershey Company is excited to offer a fun and delicious way to save on gas costs," Hersey Product Publicity Director Jody Cook said in a statement.
Another such attention-getter was Democrat congressional candidate Dan Seals' campaign event to help passing motorists fill up their tanks at cut-rate -- $1.85 a gallon -- at a Lincolnshire station last May. That was the price of gasoline when his opponent Mark Kirk as well as President George W. Bush came into office in 2001. The political ploy, like the Hershey giveaway, also jammed traffic and was a boost to about 50 drivers.
More promotions are expected to continue, including Chrysler car dealerships nationwide offering $2.99 a gallon with the purchase of a vehicle as well as Meijer grocery stores with gas stations trimming 10 cents a gallon when its Meijer credit card is used through Labor Day.
Some industry experts said more companies are likely to use gasoline as a carrot, needing to entice consumers to look at their products or service. After all, companies need such incentives to stand up to competition. So, don't expect these promotions to end anytime soon, especially as the price of gasoline climbs even higher.
Also, such enticements create a psychological impression on consumers, said D. Joel Whalen, associate professor of marketing at DePaul University in Chicago.
"When you have a shortage of gasoline and an increase in price, it creates scarcity," said Whalen. "And that creates an unmediated response in consumers. It's something they don't think about, but they then attach an increase in value to that scarce item."