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How SoBe® Used Promotional Giveaways to Go Mainstream

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By Fausto Mendez

    John Bello used promotional giveaways to grow his beverage brand, SoBe®, from a niche set of bottled drinks to a mainstream phenomenon that PepsiCo eventually bought out. Today, he’s building up new brands with strikingly similar marketing strategies. 

    Promotional giveaway campaigns work. Need proof? Just ask John Bello, founder of SoBe, which he sold for $370 million, and the architect of SoBe’s wildly successful promotional campaigns. How’d he do it?

Promotional Products 

    Bello leveraged the power of promotional products and a fascinating and unforgettable logo. Combine the two, and you have a series of high-quality promotional products branded with SoBe’s iconic lizard. Here’s how it went down.

    His team would deliver a box of promotional giveaways, such as keychains, to as many SoBe dealers as possible, and the SoBe dealers would hand out the branded products to SoBe customers. The SoBe customers are already fans of the product, and the iconic lizard logo is beautiful and striking enough that it can be appreciated on its own. So the giveaway has two main effects.

Customers as Brand Ambassadors

    First, it makes the customer feel appreciated, and in the customer’s mind, it creates an association between those positive feelings and SoBe (and sometimes the store itself). That effect makes SoBe more memorable, so the customer is more likely purchase SoBe products in the future. The store owners tend to appreciate the free marketing as well. 

    Second, the customer would wear or use the promotional product in his or her day-to-day life, and the eye-catching lizard logo would attract others’ attention. As a result, the product becomes a conversation starter for the customer’s friends, family and acquaintances, and this introduces the brand to new fans.

Rinse & Repeat

    As Bello continued SoBe’s relentless promotional campaign, his effort slowly paid off as the brand grew to mainstream proportions, but he’s not one to take too many days off. After selling the company to PepsiCo, Bello launched a new beverage brand, and he’s using the same proven marketing strategies all over again. 

    In similar fashion, the new company’s logo is often sought for the mere fact that’s beautiful. “Part of the trick is having cool giveaways and a cooler logo,” says Marketing Officer Bruce Burke. The second half of the trick is getting those products into the hands of the target audience.

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