McLean, VA (written by Bruce Horovitz/USA Today) -- Folks with a mind to - and a stomach to - can consume a whole lot of free eats and drinks over the next few days.
7-Eleven doles out free Slurpees for its 85th birthday today. Chick-fil-A offers free meals to guests who come dressed as cows on Friday.
That same day, Starbucks hands out its new Refreshers energy drink made from green coffee extract and fruit juice. And on Saturday, Dippin' Dots stores give out samples of new Dippin' Dot Clusterz.
Behind all of these promos: social media. Marketers are convinced that it's the most effective way to get word out on promotions - particularly for free stuff.
"Social media will double the size of our promotion in one year," says Joe DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven, who notes that thanks to Facebook and Twitter buzz, it will hand out 10 million free Slurpees vs. 5 million last year. Promo hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
Since July 1, a countdown clock on Slurpee.com has been ticking off the seconds until the giveaway.
"This thing has grown viral," DePinto says. Slurpee has 5 million Facebook fans, and 7-Eleven has 2 million.
Last year, during the freebie promo, sandwich sales jumped 40%, baked goods sales rose 28%, coffee increased 24%, and even Slurpee sales rose 22% - even though folks could get them free.
Others with freebies this week:
•Starbucks. Hoping to become a player in the $8 billion energy drink market, Starbucks is rolling out Refreshers. To energize the rollout on Friday, from noon to 3 p.m. local time, it will give away 12-ounce hand-crafted Refreshers (valued at $2.90). Flavors: Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus.
•Chick-fil-A. Dress head to hoof as a cow on Friday, Cow Appreciation Day, and get a free entree, side and beverage. Wear a cow accessory, such as a cow-spotted scarf, and get a free entree. Last year, it gave away 600,000 freebies, spokesman Mark Baldwin says. For social buzz, President Dan Cathy will do interviews dressed as a cow.
•Dippin' Dots. Most of the chain's 130 retail stores in 44 states will hand out small cups - worth $4 each - of Dippin' Dots Clusterz (ice cream bits in chocolate morsels) on Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time. The rationale, says marketing director Dana Knudsen: It's National Ice Cream Day eve.