My birthday was last week, and I enjoyed the cards, emails and texts I received from family and friends. But what really amazed me were some of the “gifts” I received.

One company, whose mailing list I am on, gave me a birthday gift of a 25% discount on a purchase from their online store. I had 48 hours to make the purchase. Other businesses offered buy-one-get-one-for-a-lesser-price options in honor of my birthday. One restaurant sent me a very generous $30 off the price of one entrée, provided I purchased another full entrée at the regular price. This discount was valid at dinner only, Monday through Thursday, and could not be used toward alcohol, tax or gratuity, during Happy Hour, or on special-occasion days like Valentine’s Day – which didn’t matter anyway because the coupon expired a month after my birthday. Also, my name and birthdate had to exactly match the information on my driver’s license. Mine doesn’t, since my legal name is Elizabeth. So even if I wanted to use this “birthday gift,” I’d have an easier time getting through airport security than getting my restaurant discount.

I find all of this more amusing than annoying, but it makes me wonder: When did the meaning of the word “gift” change to “marketing gimmick?”

Another pet peeve of mine, closely related to this one, is the phrase, “free gift.” This is often used to describe an item – usually a report or e-book – which is used as a means of getting people to provide their contact information for advertising or promotional purposes. I have no objection to the practice, just to the description of it as a free gift. Gifts, after all, are supposed to be free. By definition, they are given to another person voluntary, without requiring compensation. So “free gift” is redundant. If it’s truly a gift, it comes with no cost, expectation, or additional requirement. Gifts come with no strings attached. At least, they’re supposed to.

A number of years ago, I attended a presentation by a best-selling author. Something she said during her program struck me as very profound, and the kind of thing I like to write about in my column. I told her this after the presentation, and asked her permission to quote her. She graciously agreed, and then said, “But you don’t have to give me credit. It’s my gift to you. If I wanted to get credit, it wouldn’t be a gift, it would be marketing.”

That’s stayed with me ever since, and I will always have a high opinion of this woman because of it.

It may not be common practice anymore, but the greatest gifts we can give to others are the ones we give freely, with no expectation of getting something back in return, and no need for recognition. It’s still nice to be thanked and appreciated, but that’s a bonus that comes back to us. It’s not a requirement.

I did use a few of my “birthday gift” discounts, by the way – ones that really were a gift, rather than a gimmick, and I’ll be happy to patronize those establishments whenever I can. That will be my gift to them.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 7, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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