With the economy in the slow lane, a growing range of businesses are using free fuel to try to drive sales.
Among them is upscale Callaway Golf (Quote: ely), with an "increase your driving distance" giveaway of gasoline cards up to $100 with the purchase of select drivers.
"The price of gas is a concern for everybody," Callaway spokeswoman Michele Szynal says. "If people are considering buying a non-essential product like a golf club, this helps ease the guilt."
The promotions come as the pain at the pump is averaging almost $4 a gallon nationally.
The less-conventional tie-ins come as more directly fuel-dependent businesses - such as car sellers and tourist destinations - are using gasoline as a marketing tool.
Chrysler, for example, recently extended its "Let's Refuel America" promotion until July. It offers car buyers gas cards good for a fixed price of $2.99 per gallon for up to 12,000 miles a year for three years.
Among companies going for more marketing mileage from gas:
-- Charter Communications (Quote: chtr). The cable operator is offering $25, $50 and $100 gasoline cards to customers who go online to order or upgrade its TV, Internet and phone services.
-- Popular Mechanics. The magazine put its own spin on parent Hearst's $250,000 sweepstakes to increase subscriptions at its publications, labeling it "free gas for life."
This is "an effective way to draw readers into the magazine while also addressing a real and timely concern," publisher Bill Congdon says.
-- Rockland, Maine, inns. Berry Manor Inn, Captain Lindsey House and LimeRock Inn are offering "No Fueling Around" packages of a free auto tune-up with a three-night midweek stay. While guests relax, a local mechanic will give cars a new air filter, a fuel-injection cleaning and tire pressure check to help increase fuel efficiency.
-- Idearc Media (Quote: iar). The producer of Verizon Yellow Pages and Superpages.com gave away gas to get the attention of consumers and potential advertisers. On May 22, employees pumped $40 worth of free gas for the first 200 cars at 24 gas stations across the USA.
The promotion began at 11 a.m., but "people lined up at some of the gas stations at ten or eleven o'clock the night before," spokesman Andrew Shane says.
While gas is a popular come-on, another had more firepower for some car buyers. Max Motors, which has two car dealerships in Butler, Mo., has offered buyers a choice of a $250 gas card or $250 toward the purchase of a gun.
"We give them a certificate to take to the local gun dealer, and the gun dealer will bill us the first $250," says Walter Moore, a general manager at Max Motors.
Through last Thursday, 147 customers had taken the gun. Three took the gas card.
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