Agency gifts: the good, the bad and goldfish

In this anonymous guest post, a media agency has some advice for media owners on the sort of gifts they like – and do not like – to receive.

I came into work on Sunday to discover the result of a media owner’s promo gift gone wrong – a dead gold fish.

On the side of the bowl containing said dead fish was written: ‘Be the big fish in a small pond and come test the water’. Not a good look for Advantage SA, which is trying to promote South Australia as an attractive place to advertise.

We get a deluge of gifts this time of year, although not all smell quite as bad. As agency folk, we are forever grateful for the generosity of media owners. But here are some helpful tips on what we see as the good, the bad and the useless corporate gifts.


These gifts aren’t generally glamorous but they’ll be put to use and keep your brand top of mind.

1) Coffee mugs

Anything that saves an agency spending their own money is a winner, they’ll last longer than your branding will.

2) Pens

See above for saving money, cuteness is a bonus.

3) Notepads

They will get used, so go ahead and include your deadlines or basic info.

4) USBs

These things are damn expensive and this one from Nova is especially cute and clever.

Good, but you only need one

We’re reaching saturation point on some items.

1) Mouse Pads

Putting the outdoor companies posting periods on these was a stroke of genius, unfortunately now they all do it and only one mouse pad can win!

2) Keep Cups

Great idea but if everyone owns eleven of them doesn’t that somehow negate the environmentally sound intent?

Timeless winners

Though it is no-longer the glory days of the 1980s, some things never change.

1) Booze

Nuff said.

2) Food

No picture available as it was already devoured. Though any female in an agency will tell you she wishes there were some more lower calorie options.

Novelty items

1) Oversized novelty sunglasses

As one senior agency staffer said when the promo girls tried to put this on her desk, “I don’t want your landfill.”

2) Stress Balls

Yes, we are stressed and these aren’t helping (though this one was tied to a races invite so it’s forgiven).

3) True Blood

Given that most agency folk are fans of the show this item became a status symbol in itself. But had it been for a less demographically relevant TV show would we have loved it so much?

The dead end

1) Live animals

In case any media owner was gearing up to puppies for Christmas, let us point out that any gift which ultimately leads to the recipient flushing it down the toilet in rotting form is not the best association for your brand. A USB memory stick contained in a plastic fish floating in the bowl would have had the same visual effect, a longer lifetime and not stunk out the office.


  1. Alison_F
    5 Dec 11
    12:15 pm

  2. That is truly terrible. I was involved (or they tried to involve me, anyway) in a promo similar to that for Dell a few years back and it was that possibility of cruelty or death that had me refusing to participate. It is cruel to use a live animal as a means for conveying your message, unless your message directly relates to that animal.
    At this point I am thinking about informing the RSPCA. What do others think?

  3. anonymous
    5 Dec 11
    12:19 pm

  4. Having had a fish bowl in the past i came back after lunch to find 2 deserted gold fish on my desk to look after… Not only did this media owner send these poor fishes into the hands of very busy people who had not opted to look after such an animal, they don’t seem to be lasting very long either! my two are also dead and this sadness has spread throughout the agency with 4 dead fish and counting… not to mention the ones that got flushed before they were adopted!
    Creative… but not a good idea SA.

  5. Peter Rush
    5 Dec 11
    12:51 pm

  6. He’s just kipping.

  7. Gezza
    5 Dec 11
    1:35 pm

  8. Dead parrot sketch anyone?

  9. Ricki
    5 Dec 11
    1:54 pm

  10. @ Alison_F

    Go for it. What a stupid, poorly conceived idea.

    I expressed reservations recently about a Garnier installation in shopping centres using live goldfish in perspex tubes to promote that the product was environmentally friendly. The irony would make me laugh if it wasn’t so cruel.

  11. Daniel
    5 Dec 11
    2:03 pm

  12. Your fish did well. Our 2 fish didn’t last until Sunday – they passed on mid last week. (RIP little fellas)

    Have any of these fish survived?

    Cruel and a bad gift indeed. Bad.

  13. Jules_A
    5 Dec 11
    2:04 pm

  14. South Australia does have a reputation for the worst water in Australia but this is going too far…..

  15. Tammy
    5 Dec 11
    2:08 pm

  16. Shame… The kid that thought this one up would have thought they nailed the gifting idea of the century. Frowney face.

  17. anonymous
    5 Dec 11
    2:13 pm

  18. we now have 7 dead fish, who knows what it will be by the end of the week!

  19. ahs
    5 Dec 11
    2:14 pm

  20. Send us Sushi not goldfish next time.

  21. fraser
    5 Dec 11
    2:21 pm

  22. Blame the intern

  23. Simon Rush
    5 Dec 11
    2:22 pm

  24. mine was delicious

  25. Lord of the fish
    5 Dec 11
    2:22 pm

  26. We are currently holding an orphanage for all rejected SA goldfish. We have invested in a tank, some weed and a filter. Our current success rate is 4 alive:3 dead.

    May they long live but next time, send a bottle of wine!

  27. Nemo
    5 Dec 11
    2:49 pm

  28. Its not dead, its just resting

  29. RR
    5 Dec 11
    2:50 pm

  30. I check on ours every hour or so to make sure it hasn’t died yet. Maybe they wanted to give out something that really reflected the SA market

  31. Er 2....
    5 Dec 11
    2:50 pm

  32. This pretty much sums up media…..kick backs.

  33. Gus
    5 Dec 11
    2:56 pm

  34. The cruelty to animals is bad, but spare a thought for the English language. That Copy is hideous.

  35. maz
    5 Dec 11
    3:27 pm

  36. I worked at large research company that one year gave its big clients a decent sized wollemi pine in a pot. I seriously wondered how many of the recipients would really value such a unique plant and be somewhere where the plant would have a chance at surviving.
    Sure it might sound cool and green but i would doubt many of those trees survived the first few months. Up there with a goldfish for xmas present fails…

  37. Anon
    5 Dec 11
    3:57 pm

  38. Was it dead during shipment or dead in the hands of the recipient?

    I think the RSPCA should be notified but I think it’s more the thoughtlessness of the gift rather than cruelty which is at issue here.

  39. JayZ
    5 Dec 11
    4:37 pm

  40. A Xmas ham would be nice

  41. Mr Tingles
    5 Dec 11
    6:01 pm

  42. Political correctness gone crazy here! If the recipient kills the fish through neglect, who’s really to blame? It may be wrong to force a pet on someone, but this is a massive beat up. Someone is trying to offload their responsibility and cruelty onto someone else. Man up and take responsibility for your own actions.

  43. It-must-be-true-It's-On-The-internet
    5 Dec 11
    7:55 pm

  44. What state were the recipients of the goldfish in?

    In South Australia, fish are *NOT* included in laws about animal cruelty .. you can do what you like with them .. set them on fire, torture .. whatever you like. (Ref:

    A quick look at the relevant rules hints that they would have committed an offense if they sent the fish to: ACT, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria or the Northern Territory.

    Mr Tingles: In reply to your comment: “… who’s really to blame? It may be wrong to force a pet on someone …”

    Doesn’t that answer your own question? You stated that Advantage South Australia did the wrong thing … so surely they are the ones to blame?

    Therefore Advantage South Australia should be blamed for the animal cruelty.

  45. jean cave
    5 Dec 11
    9:32 pm

  46. A few suggestions for next year.
    Packet of seeds.
    Personalised postage stamps.
    Temporary tattoos.
    Personalised elastoplasts.
    Spectacle cleaner-cloths.
    Lavendar bags.
    Midget Mozzie bite cream. . . . . .

  47. Dan
    6 Dec 11
    12:09 am

  48. I run a community publication with a significant circulation and solid readership and have had very few bookings from agencies over the past seven years. We do quite well with local business bookings though. Do i need to start gifting the agencies to attract their business?
    Admittedly we’re not CAB audited at present, but we will be shortly. Should i then be gifting? Will getting audited make a significant difference to my ability to attract agency bookings?
    Given that agencies take a commission on bookings, should i be increasing my rates to increase the ‘value’ of the booking to the agency?
    It all seems a bit… in-a-fish-ient.

  49. That's Gold
    6 Dec 11
    7:03 am

  50. Can you put my name on a goldfish please?

  51. AM
    6 Dec 11
    10:18 am

  52. Dan – that’s gold

  53. Rushdie
    6 Dec 11
    10:26 am

  54. closer inspection has revealed this to be a hoax. It’s actually goldfish eyes tattooed on someone’s knob. Is that you Tim?

  55. #justsaying
    6 Dec 11
    10:37 am

  56. Dan – independently Audited Circulation will help you get agency bookings more than any mouse pad will!

  57. Scott - Head of Aquarium
    6 Dec 11
    1:33 pm

  58. I was honored to be given the title of Head of Aquarium. A title and role that I took seriously. I put a lot of time and effort into poor little Fritzel and it was with great shame and regret that I had to flush him down the toilet 4 days after being given the responsibility of caring and nurturing for such a young and innocent fish. RIP FRITZEL

  59. Mr Corbett
    6 Dec 11
    8:19 pm

  60. Make way as I am rallying to the defence on media. Can I make a massive shout out to News Digital, Ninemsn, MCM Media, Yahoo, Adlux, MCN, Kidspot, Channel 10, News Ltd, Urban Geek, Ignite, In Link and Fairfax.
    They all donated free media to support the Facebook silent auction the we at Slingshot developed as OUR christmas present to the Wall of Hands Charity to help THEM raise money.
    All proceeds raised go directly to help indigenous children get a better start in life.

    Tim I hope it is OK to link to it at
    So if you fancy a kick around with the swannies, getting the kids to go meet the Wiggles or go watch the Rabbbitohs with The Falcon then bloody well get over there and have a bid!
    Please. x

  61. Brent
    7 Dec 11
    2:59 pm

  62. We should ship people in containers to other countries to promote ways of life..what do you think?…stupid humans..never cease to amaze me…stupid advertising campaign…..stupid results….anyone with half a brain could see this one failing….and just one prospective client recieving a dead fish = bad campaign…smart advertisers MAKE customers want to be a part of what they are offering….all the things that are weary subjects in society also are true in advertising…avoid religion and political belief,animals,children etc as one bad move and its your whole company that suffers…some of these “mistakes” are never forgotten..

  63. John
    7 Dec 11
    5:48 pm

  64. Whoever ran this campaign should of been fired. What a disgrace, he must of been smoking something.

  65. maryann gee
    7 Dec 11
    7:55 pm

  66. they could have used plastic fish,———— in a snow globe, *WHAT WERE THEY THINKING*

  67. Fish Nurse
    8 Dec 11
    6:59 pm

  68. Well now BOTH our fish are dead. Thanks a lot for the direct mail campaign which was rediculous and noiw fatal. OK they are “only ” little gold fish but they are now gone for no reason at all.
    Next time you think of something stupid and cruel to get publicity why not jam yourself into a box and get some courier to deliver you to work in the heat and with no oxygen supply.
    You are a bunch of 21st Century gooses.

  69. Anonymous
    9 Dec 11
    3:18 pm

  70. I have sent an email to the RSPCA.

  71. Al Pacino
    11 Dec 11
    2:59 am

  72. Some Italian agencies received such gift, they thought it was from Mr. Corleone.

  73. Thomas Dodson
    13 Dec 11
    11:52 am

  74. heh you called your fish “Fritzel?”

    too early dude, too early.

  75. Bob
    15 Dec 11
    4:14 pm

  76. Naked girl jumping out of cake works every time. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  77. Steve de Niese
    17 Dec 11
    4:11 pm

  78. Aww I wish our agency got sent some of these little guys, I’m just about to go out and buy some new goldfish tomorrow to replace my late little fish who passed away.

  79. kae
    28 Dec 11
    11:58 am

  80. SA?

    Should have delivered in barrels.