The Value of Free

Spike’s recent post about SWAG with a purpose gave me a flashback on the humbling beginnings of the RAGE movement.

Back in 2001, The Truth campaign and most state-led teen anti-tobacco campaigns were based on villanizing the tobacco industry and giving away tons of free SWAG. Who could blame them? The tobacco settlement funds infused state budgets from Minnesota to Florida. Those days were heydays for advertising agencies and teens loaded up on SWAG from shirts to dashboard fuzzy dice.

With South Carolina’s Tobacco Industry being extremely powerful, we felt our strategy had to be quite a bit different. But I have to be honest – we didn’t get it right the first time either.

Our first effort – a 30-day street marketing tour of the state – was filled with successes and some failures, both of which we learned from.

1) Go where the Party is happening – Don’t create your own party and expect people to show up.
Staging your own event in a rural town like Walterboro, SC sounds like a great idea, but if all the teens in town hang out at Walmart, you’re going to be more successful hanging out at Walmart, tpp. This also led us to create Friday Night Rage four years ago. If you want to go to the party on a Friday autumn night in South Carolina, you can just about choose any high school football game in the state and the whole town will be there.

2) Include your audience in creating the message. RAGE teens felt it was important for the first RAGE SWAG to have the SC state flag prominent. Why? Because the state motto; Dum Spero Spiro (While I breathe I hope) was a contradiction, and it was a story they felt empowered to tell.

3) Be brave enough to tell some folks that the message is not for them. Our RAGE teens felt it was important – make that the most important – aspect of RAGE SWAG. No adults would be allowed to wear it, or get it. This made for some awkward moments. Because adults proved to feel more entitled to SWAG than teens.

4) Just because it’s FREE doesn’t mean people want it, or for that matter, they’ll wear it.
Free baggy t-shirts with a big giant logo across the chest aren’t going to get your message seen. The more RAGE moved away form pushing logos and moved to messages (I Love My Lungs) the more teens wanted them. We have a tradition of sling-shoting t-shirts during halftime at football games. One teen even bought a RAGE shirt for twenty dollars off another teen.

5) Hand-to-Hand Combat.
I hate going to a store making a purchase and the person taking my money doesn’t even give me the courtesy of a “thank you.” So why do people sit behind a table at an event and just point to the free stuff for you to take? RAGE teens made every interaction an opportunity, and they called it “hand-to-hand combat.” It usually started with a handshake, and slipping a camo rubberband bracelet on the unsuspecting wrist. The deeper the conversations, the more valuable the exchange of SWAG. SWAG created the right way lives on past that initial conversation.

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