How 7-Eleven’s New Slurpee Rollout Is Perfectly Shaped to Attract Crowds All Summer

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Nowadays, retailers and manufacturers can’t merely introduce a new product to consumers and call it a day. The way that 7-Eleven is launching “Slurpee Lite,” its new low-calorie drink, shows how a product rollout must be an “event.” This week’s event includes a big Slurpee giveaway.

The arrival of Slurpee Lite demonstrates several of the ways stores try to woo in shoppers early and often. Here are four of the strategies utilized to maximize sales:

The Freebie. Wednesday, May 23, at 7-Eleven is Slurp Free Day, when all comers are welcomed to enjoy a 7.11-ounce Slurpee on the house between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. It’s the first of two Slurpee giveaway days planned for 2012, with the second coming on the convenience store chain’s unofficial birthday, July 11 (7/11), which has been celebrated as Free Slurpee Day for years.

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Besides generating attention for Slurpees and the 7-Eleven brand, giveaways have been shown to have a curious effect on consumers: When shoppers are given something, they’re more likely to feel obligated to buy something in return. Slurpee sales, which soar on Free Slurpee Day, are one example; strong sales of comic books on Free Comic Book Day are another.

Consumers seem to buy more on giveaway days not only out of some sort of feeling of conscious or unconscious gratitude, but also because the freebies aren’t all that substantial. A tiny 7.11-ounce drink or a single thin comic provides just a taste—and once the shopper has gotten it, he wants more. It’s extra easy to justify a purchase on giveaway days as well, because when the freebie is factored in, the shopper still feels like he’s getting a deal after spending some money out of pocket.

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Timing It Right. There’s no mystery why the new Slurpee, as well as the first Slurpee giveaway, are occurring in the springtime. Marketers want to get the refreshing drinks and snacks into the heads of consumers just as the peak season for seeking refreshing drinks takes place. National chains have given away free ice cream in recent weeks, and Sonic is offering 50% off shakes through spring and summer. A couple of summers ago, McDonald’s offered $1 drinks for the entirety of summer. It’s not a coincidence that all of these chains have decided on the same time of year to roll out their freebies, discounts, and new products.

Summer is also prime season for road trips, impromptu ramblings, and plenty of time hanging around doing next to nothing but trying to stay cool—all of which pair, conveniently enough, with Slurpees.

Low-Calorie = No Guilt = More Consumption. For manufacturers and retailers, the perfect product is not merely one that consumers want, but one that consumers will want early, often, and in great quantities. For consumers who are at least nominally concerned about their health and weight, it’s easier to stomach the idea of consuming a lot of, say, soda, if the beverage isn’t loaded with calories. The success of Diet Coke is Exhibit A.

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The Slurpee Lite, 7-Eleven hopes, will be another example of how consumers will increase their spending on a product when it appears to be good (or less bad) for their health. Perhaps most importantly for 7-Eleven, increased Slurpee consumption equates to increased visits to 7-Eleven—where consumers may also pick up some chips, magazines, eggs, and all sorts of other goods.

The sad irony is that studies have shown that the more diet sodas and foods you eat, the more likely you are to gain weight.

Limited-Time Availability. Over the years, the periodic rolling out and retreat of the McDonald’s McRib sandwich has demonstrated the amazing power of limited availability: A superficial, not-entirely-sensible rise in demand occurs when something’s in limited supply or only available for a limited time. This summer, McDonald’s and other fast food chains are trying out new limited-time-only menu items to see if the strategy can be used to juice sales once again. Human nature being what it is, many consumers bite (literally), feeling like they don’t want to miss out.

When 7-Eleven announced its Slurpee giveaway, it also called attention to a series of limited-time “featured” Slurpee Lite flavors, and how “Slurpee fans can mark their calendars so they can be first in line when each featured flavor hits 7-Eleven stores. In addition to the usual flavors, May will feature Fanta Sugar-Free Mango, with more special “limited-edition” flavors to follow.

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The point, if you haven’t gathered already, is to give consumers an extra excuse to hit a 7-Eleven. Every store’s goal is frequent visitation by its customers, and the hope is that customers get into the regular habit of stopping by and spending money, without even thinking much about it.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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