As we start going to conferences in 2010, I'm curious what the right amount of swag per attendee should be. Obviously, not everyone wants stuff and I think there's some panache to having the cool, limited swag that everyone wants but only some people got. Or not!
An upcomming conference will have 700+ attendees; we were thinking of coming with 250 pieces of fairly awesome swag (it'll be... something different... and will cost us $6-7/ea). The hope is... if the swag is successful, higher quantity printing will drive cost down by 50%+.
Anyway... will we have too much swag?
The more awesome the swag, the more people want it.
Even at conferences with 1000's of people we could give away books to 40%-50% of the attendees. At conferences which were less relevant it was down around 15%. At small conferences (500 or less) it could be 80%.
How hard is it to ship extras home? If not hard, take extras -- no reason to run out.
$7 does sound really high. If it's that valuable, it's reasonable to ask them to do something to earn it. Examples:
We've used all of the above and people are willing if the swag is good.
In fact, when there isn't a catch and we were giving away books, many people would ask "What do I have to do to get a book?"
At the very least get the badge scanned. You at least deserve the demographics, emails, and companies of the people who cared. People are never unhappy to do that for good swag.
I agree with your approach of creating some scarcity (because that does indeed increase demand). If everyone is guaranteed to get the swag, less people will want it.
And, for most higher-end items, the marginal cost does not go down that much at higher volume (not like it does with printed stuff)
Personally, I'd lean towards a lower volume of swag that you're almost guaranteed to give away. It's sort of painful and depressing to carry a bunch of swap back home. Your 250 number doesn't sound too high, but if it were me, I'd drift closer to 150.
$6-$7 sounds expensive... We gave out webcams that cost us $3.1, so I wonder what you will be giving away.
The thing is, unless people know that there is only a limited quantity, they won't feel any hurry to get your stuff early, which means that the effect you are going for will now happen. Some people will get the stuff, and be happy but won't be aware of "how lucky they are" and others will be annoyed since they didn't manage to get it.
We ordered more cameras then we needed since we will use them in future events as well...