The Gulf loves its freebies

DUBAI — As far as this part of the world goes, there is such a thing as a free lunch or a free bike, air-ticket, holiday, kilos of gold, a Lexus, and now even a BMW. You can be a millionaire in a minute or win a free trip to Kenya, get yourself a free massage or win unbelievable amounts of gold. The Gulf, known to be a discount market, loves its freebies.

By Shalini Seth

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Published: Sat 11 Jun 2005, 10:21 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 7:57 PM

Top brands are happy to give them. Dine at Grand Hyatt Dubai and you could soon be having coffee at Park Hyatt Paris. The JW Marriott Dubai offers Lufthansa and BMW customers free dining cards that give up to 33 per cent off their food bills. Lufthansa offers BMW and JW Marriott Dubai customers a 50 per cent off. And BMW offers a free test drive to all Lufthansa and JW Marriott Dubai dining customers.

Says Peter Ihde, Sales and Marketing, National Sales and Arabian Gulf Mechanical Centre (AGMC), the exclusive importer of BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce, which is putting up a BMW 740Li for Dubai Summer Surprises: “The image of the BMW is not that of a raffle car. Anywhere else to be associated as a raffle car would be considered negative rather than positive. Here it is part of a community event.”

Offering something free works as strategy, the world over. But it works even better in the Middle East because the market is still developing.

Says Irina Sharma, Chairperson, Ekada Public Relations: “It is a great way of building a database. If we are participating in a promotion with a newspaper for instance, we get a whole readership profile and we build our own database on every publication. We have done such promotions for many of our clients including Lufthansa and Clinique. We not only give out hampers, products but also collect and give information. For instance, we could ask about the skin type or colours that you like.”

Interestingly, the value of freebies keeps increasing. When a local daily tried to boost its circulation, one of the strategies it used was offer a cash voucher worth more than the subscription. Another daily offers you an insurance in return for subscription. But it is not something for nothing. A recent survey that Ekada did for a condom company became the first sex survey in this part of the world.

Says Irina Sharma: “We found out how many people are educated with regard to diseases and safety. How can a company show the safety aspect without knowing about the lifestyle?” As an incentive to participate in this building of a database, IPODs were given out.

Newspaper promotions are one way of handing out freebies, there are many others. The DSS raffle requires you to buy a ticket. Everyone from your favourite newspaper to the friendly neighbourhood radio station, the five stars and malls are happy to offer to something for something. For some you need to fill a coupon, others let you SMS your details, yet others leave pamphlets for you to fill up. Sometimes you don’t even have to do anything. At the Marriott, for instance, customers of all partners are automatically entered into a draw that could see them winning a trip to Munich; flying with Lufthansa, staying at the Marriott in Munich and exclusively tour the BMW factory in Munich.

Everyone is happy to be a consumer. And somehow everyone seems to win. Some promotions like the Dubai Duty free or the DSF, have acquired cult proportions. Last year, three travellers and their companions won a free first class trip on Emirates airline every year for life — after winning a landmark raffle organised to tempt people to fly to, from or through Dubai International Airport’s new Shaikh Rashid Terminal.

While not all win such biggies, almost every person you meet here has won something, sometime.

Says a media executive, Mike Brown: “I have won so many freebies from watches to dinners, bags, T-shirts and notebooks.”

Some winners are first timers, some others are frequent triers. You can spot raffle junkies in many of the contests.

But not all want their gifts. A look at any supermarket’s board will fetch you offers to sell “unwanted gifts” that include air tickets and plasma televisions.

Says Alia Ali, a homemaker, “We once won a mountain bike after filling up a coupon. We had no use for it so we sold it off to the watchman for Dh150, which was not even half of its value. Some days later we realised that the watchman sold it again for much more!”

Most people seem to want cash vouchers instead of gifts. Most companies factor in the fact that not everyone would want to keep their gift.

Says Ibrahim Saleh, CEO DSS, “Many people want cash instead of the car. The BMW on offer costs more than Dh300,000. But if the winner wants cash instead, we will give Dh250,000. We want people to keep the car.”

But everything has its uses. Says Brown, “A lot of the gifts make great giveaways when I go back home!”

True, but for many who win, the policy is ‘I won, I return.’

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