In the US at the moment there is a vogue for giving things away. Much of it is altruistic, reflecting a desire to pull together and help the country through tough times, reinforced by Obama's call to give service to the community. In Los Angeles, for example, a yoga instructor is giving free classes to the unemployed, and I saw another store on the TV (can't remember what kind) which offers the same percentage discount on its products that each customer has lost on his or her pension investments, no proof necessary.
But it's fast proving lucrative for some. Probably the first big company to exhibit this community spirit was Denny's, a major restaurant chain which gave away free breakfasts for the Superbowl in February. Since then it has done so well that it's continuing the offer. Two eggs, two pancakes, two rashers of bacon and two sausages - all free for anyone who asks. But it's making big profits for the company. See the maths. A Denny's representative says their next plan is to ask people to pay the favour forwards, and bring in a friend to recommend for a free breakfast too.
Bear in mind that this is not a simple 'buy one, get one free' type of promotion. It's working so well because it addresses an ethos of public service which is familiar to Americans with their pioneer history of communities working together for the good of all to dig a well or raise a barn.
Of course one can be very cynical about this, especially when Denny's are making big profits from it now, but my question is this: would it work in the UK? Could your business offer some kind of giveaway for the benefit of people being hurt by the economy? Could it prove financially viable for you?