Think about it. I could be making up the numbers or the statistics, but I won't. According to Wikipedia, glorious source of uncontrolled information, and probably the most unreliable source (but the easiest and most satisfying), Waterloo Station had a flow of entries and exits of around 86.5 millions of people in 2009-2010. Divided into the days of the year and considering it is not accurate at all, we could say that 236.000 persons enter and exit the station every day, and maybe just 150.000 on peak time.
Now let's think about the other big hubs of the city: Victoria, Euston, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Baker Street, Paddington, (hey, I am almost naming them all !!), unforgettably gigantic Clapham Junction. I am probably not considering a lot more, but let's just get this 9 for the sake of the argument. 9 times 150.000. That makes it approximately 1.35 million interchanging, exiting or entering one of the main hubs of the City. How many viewers did the Brits have this past february on TV? Around 6.2 millions, and that is Nationwide.
Therefore, big train stations are undoubtedly very juicy platforms for publicity. I know, I know. My calculations are everything but reliable or feasible, but you get my point. Big station commuters are publicity targets for the launch of new products. Fast walkers, with just having in mind that we need to get into our train. Fast fast fast. Their strategies must be simple, appealing and on the move. This is when freebies appear.
- Oyster card wallets. Unfortunately, due to the high wear of the plastic covers, we will have to end up changing the ticket wallet at some point. Either we get another Oyster and Ikea or MasterCard will sponsorize it one for us every time it's broken, or we will accept one of those give-aways from company X given at 7 in the morning on the street. Excuses are extremely variable: Uniqlo is launching a new shop on Oxford Street, Santander Bank want us to get their 1-2-3 new Current account full of advantages, Specsavers will test my eyes for free with the coupon placed inside the wallet and even my ex-University treated me with one. Effective? Yes. I happen to remember all the ones had so far and must say, my favourite one was the infamous yellow one from Ikea. Daily reminder of that X product sold by company Y.
- Sneakers. You never eat chocolate bar, but you happen to be that time in the morning, peak time but not late for the train. Arrived sooner than expected because you hurried while having your coffee. No time for biscuit. Hungry. Lucky you, they are giving away free chocolate bars. My mind will store this information of chocolatey satisfaction and next time in the supermarket I would probably buy one if starving.
- Free coffee. We all know about the again, infamous coffee chain, known for their watery coffees, overpriced drinks and overall disapointment. They happen to have realised about their reputation later and apparently they want to treat us like persons right now, not like numbers, as their revamping campaign. Free coffee for everybody!! Human nature is weak, and although ethically none of us, allegedly set a foot on any of their franchises, for one day we give in: we say our name to the barista, we get our free coffee and we run out as fast as we can towards our platform, in case somebody known see us sinning. 'It was just that only time...'. Yeah yeah yeah, we all did it.
- Butter. Famous overpriced spread, not even real butter, trying to convince us to buy their product. One time they gave away a whole pack to prepare the dinner. Butter, pasta, onions and tomato sauce. This year, I was not THAT lucky, I had to be consent with just 50p off coupon. Well, it did work to me, specially when given right on the trip back home. Cheeky.
- Random stuff. Like placing a girl in her pyjama, pretending to be asleep on a king size bed in the middle of the station hall. I really wanted to wish she was sleeping for real. I am not sure if she took a break, but she definitely was still there when I came back from work. Even though it was quite an usual image, I really cannot recall what were they advertising. It was disturbing.
- Cereal. Again, one of those days that my breakfast was kind of unexistant. A little box of cereal make you day. Downside of it? They made me say 'I've been such a Diva today!'. It kind of was true.
Then we could talk about the free newspaper. Well known names of the morning and the evening issue. Most of the time full of rubbish news, repeated news and so on. Every now and then a couple of fun articles about misbehaving kids and their submissive parents, cooking recipes about how to cook clotted cream or the painful Home & Property issue that achieves to make me extremely frustrated by the time I got home.
Nevertheless, it is quite frequent to have (actually my favourite 'freebie') discount coupons for magazines. Funny to see that this happen on very weak month issue, when sales have not been as successful as expected (e.g. Lana del Rey in the cover of Vogue), hard discount is placed, allowing us to buy the mag for a mere quid. Probably those issues are just useful for cut-outs or cleaning windows after one read, but still, the strategy worked for the big fishes. Subsidised by WHSmith or Waitrose, I ended up buying their terrible issue.
Publicists, you guys are making a good job indeed.
Or I am weak.