Incentives & Gifts Industry Insights Brand Strategy

The new corporate gifting rules: Create connections, not clutter

By Warren Humphries, Head of gift cards


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March 20, 2023 | 8 min read

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With the battle for consumer attention at an all-time high, businesses are returning to tried-and-tested advertising techniques to make sure they stand out and convert prospects. Corporate gifting is making a comeback, says Warren Humphries (head of gift cards, M&S Corporate Gifts), but this time, corporate gifts are all grown up.

A man surrounded by gift cards

Good ol’ gifting is back in business - but plastic clocks and throwaway fans won’t cut it with today's consumers

Businesses have used gifts and giveaways as part of their acquisition strategy since the dawn of mainstream media. Even Coca-Cola – a brand renowned for its emotive approach to advertising – was originally fueled by giveaways.

When it first launched in 1886, Coca-Cola held zero market distinction. There were many more-popular and better-known carbonated drinks on offer at the time, including R. Whites Lemonade and Dr. Pepper. Coca-Cola didn’t stand out and customers simply weren’t interested in sampling the soda.

So, in an attempt to acquire new customers, just two years after its invention, Coca-Cola mailed out thousands of tickets entitling the holder to a free glass of Coke. The idea was initially deemed ‘extravagant’ by Coca-Cola’s inventor, John Pemberton – but that year the company sold, on average, nine glasses of Coke a day. By 1913, Coca-Cola had redeemed 8.5 million free drinks, and established itself as a household name.

Even as it pioneered modern advertising – most famously with 1971’s ‘Hilltop’ ad – Coca-Cola continued to incorporate gifting into its acquisition strategy.

During the 1980s Cola Wars – wherein it battled with PepsiCo for market dominance – giveaways played a key part of the brand’s acquisition initiatives. Amidst the contentious taste tests and costly celeb endorsements, Coca-Cola gave away fans, lamps and clocks to convert customers and secure market share.

Fast forward to 2023, and good ol’ gifting is back in business, across every sector. But plastic clocks and throwaway fans won’t cut the mustard with today’s consumers. To be truly effective and deliver real ROI, today’s corporate gifts need to build lasting connections.

Memorable gifts deliver meaningful impact

Marketers have long known that emotion is key to connecting with consumers. This conviction has inspired a storied history of heartstring-tugging ads, loveable mascots and catchy jingles. Brands know that by building emotional bonds, they can create connections with customers that withstand the bad times and flourish during the good.

Brands are striving to engender these emotional responses at every customer touchpoint – including corporate gifting. The thing is, disposable giveaways simply don’t hold the emotional clout needed to connect with today’s consumers. They’re ineffective, unsustainable and have largely given way to gift cards, discounts and ‘cash back’ offers, which have become the dominant force in modern gifting.

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So how can companies ensure that the gift cards, discounts or cash-back giveaways they offer engender an emotional response?

Think about the most memorable gift you ever received. It could be an original pressing of a treasured record. Or a poem given to you on your first anniversary. Whatever it is, the fact that it’s so memorable is down to how it made you feel.

You probably have a personal gift in mind. But according to a 2023 survey of 1,000 UK consumers – commissioned by M&S Corporate Gifts – the same psychological rules apply to corporate gifting. Here are some of the survey’s key findings:

  • 64% agree that the gifts offered by companies impact their purchasing decisions
  • 95% say that a positive first experience with a brand would make them more likely to become a returning customer
  • 71% say receiving a gift card for a premium brand would positively impact their opinion of the company that gifted them
  • 63% agree that receiving a gift card for a premium retailer would feel more like a ‘treat’ than receiving cash or a discount code
  • 91% say they’d be more likely to remember receiving a gift card as a purchase incentive than an equivalent discount off a future purchase

Combining these responses, here’s what we can learn and extrapolate.

Acquisition initiatives are often the first touchpoint customers have with your brand. If you make a good impression by ensuring your prospect feels appreciated, you open up the possibility of creating a loyal, lasting fan of your business.

Receiving an unexpected ‘treat’ – such as a premium gift card – feels special, unique and unexpected. It lets the customer know that they’re genuinely appreciated, helping companies create the emotional connections they need to boost customer loyalty and lifetime value.

A huge benefit from a relatively small incentive.

Thoughtful corporate gifting creates connections that linger long after a customer has made a purchase with you, and long after they’ve spent their premium gift card on a lovely, luxurious treat. Thoughtful gifts create memorable experiences, which in turn lock in strong brand connections that can last years.

To find out more about the impact of thoughtful gifting, read the full report – ‘Unforgettable impressions: What do your corporate gifts say about your brand?’ – here.

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