When I went to Las Vegas for the International Consumer Electronics Show, I found that people were freely giving away smaller items on the trade show floor. They’d give you pens, buttons, bags, and that kind of thing. You could also get press kits in the form of USB flash drives from a few companies.
However, all the “good stuff” was typically reserved to private appointments, either in hotel suites or in private meeting rooms. It was here that I was able to get more valuable things like power supplies, as well as easier access to the smaller items like t-shirts and flash drives.
By contrast, the E3 Expo in Los Angeles wasn’t quite as “free” with the giving away of trade show swag. The vendors might give you a couple of small things, but you had to “work” even to receive a t-shirt or a TMNT wristband. The work wasn’t difficult — they just wanted you to try out their video game or participate in a small challenge — but it was work nonetheless.
The same kind of thing happened at Fragapalooza. I was there as a part of a sponsorship team, so my perspective is a little different, but there was very little in terms of free giveaways. Again, mini contests (and lineups) were required to get at the prizes. At the same time, it is important to note that Fragapalooza isn’t really a trade show; it’s a LAN party.
I’m not saying that any one strategy is superior to the other, but from the perspective of the vendor, you have to look at how you are extracting maximum value from giving away your promotional products. If you give away small items to everyone, you reach the largest audience, but these smaller items may end up in the trash. If you give away larger items to a select few, you reach a smaller audience, but you can be more assured that these items will be kept and used.
Another observation I made is that not every company gave away products from their own company, ironically enough. I was at one party where a computer company was giving away things like digital cameras and Nintendo DS systems. I found that to be quite odd, don’t you think?