Businesses both large and small have found out through trial and error that spending more money on promotional items, and less money on advertisements in print, on television, and on the radio, can be a better investment. If John Q. Public sees a commercial on the television for his local grocery store, chances are he will not remember much of the information he viewed about the store. However, if this same person wins or is given a promotional item from that same store, he is more likely to not only remember the store or product, but he will also mention it to his friends and family. This is the "word of mouth" advertising that these businesses are hoping for when they give these premiums (toys or collectable items) away to the public.

In the early 1900's, tobacco companies printed what was to become known as baseball cards. Back then they called them tobacco cards. With each pack of tobacco you bought, you would get a baseball players card that was printed on heavy cardboard. These are very valuable to card collectors, since they are one of the rarest items in the baseball card collecting scene. The players on these cards are all relatively unknown players, but the card's age and condition make them almost worth their weight in gold to some collectors.

In the 1920's and early 1930's jigsaw puzzles were a popular premium with many companies. Some of the companies who gave away puzzles are:

  • Peoples Oil Company gave away puzzles with purchase of gasoline
  • Department stores such as Sears gave away Parker Brothers "Pastime Puzzles".
  • Local Banks
  • Grocery Stores
  • Cracker Jack introduced it's "prize in every pack" promotion; a toy was put inside every package of Cracker Jack's sold. This has become a tradition that continues to this day.

Some companies were big sponsors of local and national radio shows:

  • Ovaltine, for example, sponsored "Radio Orphan Annie" in the 1930's.
  • Wheaties sponsored Armstrong, the All American Boy and Ralston's Tom Mix. thru the 1930's.

Occasionally sponsors of radio programs gave away their own premiums or "give-aways" to listeners who would send in a box top, label, or other proof-of-purchase from a sponsor's product.

The jigsaw puzzles were a big hit with customers, thus serving their purpose of getting the "word of mouth" advertising.

The 1930's and 1940's were good decades to be a consumer. Many companies started giving away premiums, either with a purchase, or by saving up stamps and trading them in for items. There was a wide variety of items to be had, items like:

  • Porcelain figures from the Lipton Tea and Canadian Tenderleaf Tea companies. These figurines included famous people from around the world, animals, and famous places.
  • Betty Boop collectables were premiums from many stores.
  • The Adventures of Dick Tracy Detective was first published by Whitman Publishing Company  from Racine, Wisconsin. It was the first "Big Little Book" Whitman published. The "Big Little Books" were a big hit in the 1930's and 1940's. Whitman published over 580 different "Big Little Books".
  • The WIENERMOBILE™, one of the most recognizable advertisements in the world, was first made in 1936. Oscar Mayer had a huge success with The WIENERMOBILE™. To this day The WIENERMOBILE™ draws huge crowds wherever it is on display.
  • The WIENERWHISTLE™ Toy was also introduced in the 1930's. It continues to bring smiles to Oscar Mayer fans everywhere.

The 1950's through the 1970's brought many new premiums to consumers. All different types of companies were handing out premiums now. These include companies and items like:

  • Sunbeam Bread Company gave away items like sewing kits and other small trinkets.
  • Radio and television shows started giving away premiums that had something to do with the show or sponsors. Premiums like decoder rings for the captain marvel show. Action figure premiums were hugely popular with the superhero type shows, also.
  • Lunch boxes with various characters from television and movies became a big success, and this continues to this day.
  • Banks found that by handing out toy banks with their logo on it, brought in friends of customers to sign up for new accounts. It also instilled the name of the bank in its future customers; the children who ended up with those toy banks. To this day I can tell you the name of the first bank that I opened an account with, due to the fact that I had one of their toy banks that had their name on it.
  • Fast food restaurants were giving out collectable plates, cups, and toys, causing consumers to continue to come back and visit the establishment so they could get the whole set of toys.
  • Movie theatres were handing out promotional items connected with the movie being featured.
  • Marc's Big Boy sold banks of their trademark "Big Boy".  Not only did they get money for their banks, they got their logo out to the public in a unique fashion.

Large cities, tourist attractions and vacation destinations started to hand out premiums to people who visited them. This is another fine example of "word of mouth" advertising. Even small items such as matchbooks and ashtrays, served as a good source of advertising. Many times I remember somebody coming to my parents house when I was a child. They would say, "Hey a ashtray from a hotel in Las Vegas". They would remember the name of the hotel from seeing it on the ashtray, and when they went to Las Vegas they stayed at the same hotel. So, the "word of mouth" advertising does work.

The 1980's, 1990's saw toys become a huge cash cow for advertising.  Toys such as Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and the Power Rangers became so popular, and sold out in stores almost as fast as they could stock them. Naturally advertisers saw a way to give away smaller toys connected with these popular fads in a variety of ways. One of the most popular ways was a "kids meal" at any one of the fast food chain restaurants. These meals usually include a hamburger or cheeseburger, small french fry, small drink, and a bonus toy. This has become a top grossing meal at all of the nation wide fast food restaurants. You can hardly go by any of these fast food places without the children in the back seat saying, "Oh I want a kids meal", what they really mean is, "Oh I want the toy". The advertising works, they remember what restaurant has the toys they want. Oscar Mayer is a perfect example of how giving away premium items will draw customers to your product or service. If you live in America, ask anybody you know to sing you the Oscar Mayer Wiener song, and most of them will know at least most of the lyrics.

Oscar Mayer like many other companies has learned to embrace the information superhighway by giving away premiums as prizes for different types of online instant win contests. By having a contest that is on the world wide web, not only will the company reach consumers around the world, but they have a great source of "word of mouth" advertising; the "tell a friend" feature. Once a consumer plays the online game, they are encouraged to tell a friend via e-mail to earn extra chances to play the game which means you have another chance to win one of their prizes. This has become a huge success for advertisers. I have personally sent many friends referrals to a contest that I have won.  Not only do they play and maybe win a prize, but I get my extra plays and have won many prizes. For instance, I told skybluefusion about the Oscar Mayer contest where you can win a stuffed WienerMobile toy contest using the tell a friend option.  She then went and played the game after getting the email from them, and has won many times. The email that the website sends out is a polite email, usually saying something like this...

Hey Your friends name here,

You Could WIN the Wienermobile™ for a day or an OSCAR™ the Bean Bag Toy! Go to http://kraft3.promotions.com/iwish/front.do to enter and your wish could be granted!

May your wish come true!
From You name here.

These games also have another way of getting advertisements to you. They require you to give them your e-mail, and mailing address so they can send you any prizes you may win.  Some do send out spam emails, but they are required to give you the option of either not signing up for the list, or the option to not participate in any mailing list you may be put on.

There are many forms of online games. Some use a spinning wheel, that if it stops on "winner" you win a prize. Others use unique games like the one mentioned in the Oscar Mayer paragraph of this write up. All of the online contests provide the games for free. Most of the games I have played were designed and built using Macromedia Shockwave and Macromedia Flash. It provides a small enough file that even people that use dial up internet can still play an exciting game without waiting too long for it to load.

Some of the online games are quite simple. By filling out just a few boxes of information, and with a click or two you see if you are a winner. Many of the companies that have an online contest, require you to buy their product to get a special code off of the label. You would then go to their website, enter the code, and either play a game or be notified instantly if you are a winner.

I have won close to two thousand dollars in promotional items and prizes from online contests since January 2004. And, I find myself purchasing the products who's companies have online contests. This proves to me that by companies giving away premiums and prizes, they really do get people to buy their products.

There are many different websites on the internet that post a list of what companies are running online contests. If you are interested in online contests, using a search engine will help you in your search for prizes, by simply searching for online contests, sweepstakes, or by using the company name, you can find many great games and free promotional prizes.


Source: Larry Jacobs. 1996. Big Little Books: A Collector's Reference & Value Guide. Paducah, Kentucky: Collector Books.
Oscar Mayer. 04 Aug 2004 <http://www.kraftfoods.com/>.
Cracker Jack. 04 Aug 2004 <http://www.crackerjack.com>.
"Collectable History." Collectors Monthly May 2004:

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