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It was Monday. I was at work. I was hungry. It was hours until my lunch break, and in walks the delivery lady for Jimmy John’s. To my delight she was not dropping off someone’s lunch order but had a box full of FREE SAMPLES! Yes, free sub sandwiches. And guess what, I now love Jimmy John’s.

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Who doesn’t love free samples? Let’s be honest, it is the main reason we go to Costco. Since it is no secret that we love free things, giving away samples is a genius form of advertising. However, companies are not just giving away products for fun but use free samples, or sampling, as a strategic promotion. This type of promotion is nothing new. We can walk through Costco or the grocery store and sample bite size pieces of food. We can buy shampoo with a free trial size bottle of conditioner attached. We can go online and request free samples of dish soap, cosmetics, or toothpaste to be sent to us in the mail. So why am I so excited about Jimmy John’s free samples? Here’s the answer: I was not expecting on a mundane Monday morning for someone to show up with free food. My expectations for Monday were violated, in a positive way.

According to Judee Burgoon’s Expectancy Violations Theory, expectations can be violated in both positive and negative ways. The value and weight of that violation can affect the relationship between the two parties. For me, Jimmy John’s violation caused my opinion of the company to go from neutral to rather high. The company made a step in forming a relationship with me as a consumer.

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One of the goals of product sampling is to cultivate positive brand attitudes in potential customers. Just the simple fact that they are giving you something for nothing elicits a positive response. Sampling can be the first step in getting people to not only recognize the brand but also feel favorably towards it. While positive attitudes towards a brand are great, it is the future purchase that is the goal. It is too soon to tell if I will consistently choose Jimmy John’s, but I am much more likely to go there than before. If the promotion and the product are successful, consumers are likely to purchase the product.

As you are witnessing, sampling can have another positive affect for brands: word of mouth. Because people are generally excited to receive free products, they are likely to talk about it. It worked on me (you’re welcome Jimmy John’s). Take a second to search hashtags relating to free samples on Twitter and Instagram, and you will see people advertising for brands through their excitement of free samples.

So, we know sampling in almost any form can elicit several positive effects for companies, but Jimmy John’s took this normal practice and enhanced it. They brought the free samples to me. I didn’t have to walk around a grocery store or check the mail. By doing this, they are reaching people who might not have ever sampled their food and hopefully gaining new customers.

Laura Tippett

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