Free stuff pays off

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Pontiac is only the best-known of the dozens of examples of using giveaways on daytime talk shows to hype their products. The one-time queen of the genre, Rosie O'Donnell, once famously described the secret to the success of her long-running gabfest as "free stuff." Others, from Regis and Kelly to Dr. Phil, have used the marketing platform of on-air product giveaways to market their own hosts, using the freebies to cultivate their own fan-friendly images in the hopes of growing ratings.

Following an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show's "12 Days of Giveaways" last December, Jonathan Pinsky, president of Violight, the maker of a toothbrush sanitizer of the same name, saw sales surge. The company, which began marketing the product last fall, experienced its biggest sales week after the show, moving over 5,000 units. That was up about 250% from its average weekly performance. The attention, along with good PR in magazines like Time, helped already-interested retailers overcome their reservations about the brand exposure.

"We always want to go the PR route before we go the advertising route," Mr. Pinsky said. "When you consider the cost of a TV spot vs. giving them 250 products and getting Ellen's endorsement and getting it on her Web site, it was a no-brainer."

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