The origins of product sampling

By October 9, 2017General

Product sampling can be something that’s done online or on the high street. It can be spectacular or subtle, mega or memorable. But one thing’s for sure: product sampling isn’t anything new.

Why? Well, for starters, because people love freebies and they always have. That’s something that’ll never change.

For proof, we only have to look at the history of product sampling. It’s thought that 19th Century soap maker Benjamin T Babbitt was one of the first known people to give away free samples of his products.

Babbitt was born in 1809, died in 1889 and in between, he made a fortune with his soap business, In addition to being a successful soap manufacturer, Babbitt was also considered an expert marketer.

He frequently offered free samples of his soap. Such was his confidence in his product, Babbitt’s adverts often carried the line ‘A fair trial is all I ask for’. He believed that his soap was so good, that all people had to do was to try it and they’d be hooked. They’d become fiercely loyal customers.

He reasoned that, while it would cost him a decent chunk of money to continually offer free samples of his soap, that he would recover this outlay in the long-term from brand advocates.

The logic is that people don’t generally like change. When they find a product that they like and believe in, they tend to stick with it and buy it again and again. Product sampling then becomes more of a maths problem. It might cost X to offer 1,000 samples, but you might recover Y from long-term sales.

If Y is greater than X, then sampling becomes a very worthwhile marketing strategy. If it doesn’t, then a business owner either needs to look at how the sampling campaign can be changed, or at whether a different marketing strategy should be carried out.

The point of this post is, in summary, that human characteristics don’t change. People loved free samples 200 years ago, they still love them today and they’ll love them in 200 years time.

Plus, we’ll always be creatures of habit. When we’ve found a brand and a product that we like, we’ll stick with it. That suggests that sampling is something worth mastering.

Hotcow is a non-traditional creative agency that specialises in experiential marketing that goes viral. Our campaigns generate buzz through crowd participation, PR and content sharing. Contact us on 0207 5030442 or email us on