For the longest time, product sampling was a straightforward, simple and very effective way to stimulate trial and boast sales.  In the digital era though, sampling has been remade.  Social media and other innovations are transforming sampling, adding new capabilities and potency.

There’s little doubt that sampling is a tried and true promotional vehicle.  A study fielded by Arbitron detailed sampling’s effectiveness:

  • Two out of three consumers accept product samples.
  • One third of consumers who sample in-store buy the sampled product during the same shopping trip.
  • More than half of people who sample a product plan to buy it in the future.
  • Almost half of consumers who have never heard of a product plan to buy it in the future after sampling it.

Multiplier Effect

When you layer-on the multiplier effect of social networks to a sampling program, the impact can grow exponentially.  Two years ago Splenda was among the early products to test Facebook as platform for sampling.  They developed a custom app that captured email addresses, shipping addresses and demographic data.  When users signed up to get a sample of Splenda Mist, their request appeared in their feeds, helping to spread the campaign virally.  Splenda also had fans complete 1,500 product surveys, gaining valuable feedback from its user base.

Create Credibility

By offering samples to consumers via blogs or viral videos, you can create credibility by taking advantage of those sites specific consumers frequent and the bloggers from whom they seek information.  This requires the brand to “seed” the information/offer online to generate awareness by exposing the event to consumers through strategically placed viral videos, blog posts, and more.  Recently, Quaker Oatmeal Squares partnered with various sites including to drive traffic to its Facebook page for a free sample offer.  As each blog has its own following, a brand like Oatmeal Squares is able to piggyback on the credibility that the site has created with its readers.

Ongoing Involvement

Campbell Soup used Facebook in a similar way last year for the launch of its V-8 V Fusion product.   Facebook fans of the product could enter their mailing address for a chance to sample V-8 V-Fusion + Tea.  Samples were also made available through Facebook ads and live sampling in selected markets. “We really consider the Facebook sampling to be a big focus,” says V-8 spokesperson Mandel-Sloves. “…We know consumers are very passionate about this brand, and we want to build on that with some ongoing involvement.”

Billion ‘O’ Giveaway

Last month General Mills launched a sampling program for Honey Nut Cheerios that includes a TV and online ad campaign as well as a presence on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.  The goal is to promote the face that Honey Nut Cheerios is “America’s favorite cereal.” The sampling aspect is called Billion ‘O’ Giveaway.  Seven agencies are collaborating on the multi-faceted campaign.  In additional to product samples, fans are rewarded with T-shirts and “cereal celebration kits.”

Mood Monitor

Kraft is diving deep into the Twitterverse to stage its “sampling” social media campaign for Jello pudding.  They’re launching a “Mood Monitor” on Twitter in which it will monitor the mood of the Twitterverse based on the national average of emoticon frown faces “:(” versus smiley faces “:)”.  In the process they hope to establish the emoticon “:D” as the symbol of “pudding face.”  Kraft will randomly send coupons to users typing in the frown face.

Choose Carefully

Sampling with a social overlay adds a new level of complexity to an already challenging marketing environment.  Keeping up with the multitude of programs and suppliers can be daunting, so make sure you are aligning with the right execution elements for your brand and its specific audience.  :)!