Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Promotional products/Ad Specialties

Not using my [name] pen to write you a check

Pens, t-shirts and apple butter?

Right now, I have a pen on my desk from a design studio in Washington, DC. I like the way it writes. But I don’t think I will be using that design studio for any work any time soon.

I have another pen that I picked up a conference a couple of weeks ago. I also like the way it writes, but I don’t like web hosting company whose name is on it. I used to host my website there and had nothing but problems. I would never take my business back there or recommend the company to anyone. But I do use that pen.

And then there’s the t-shirt I picked for a service I don’t even understand, but hey, this t-shirt is super soft and comfy. Or the magnetic calendar I got from the local realtor, who has also delivered apple butter (in a branded jar) to my door.

Is your promotional item really promoting you?

All of these are promotional items, sometimes called advertising specialties. Some cost pennies each and some cost much more. The question is, no matter how little or a lot you spend on these items, is it money well spent? I believe the answer lies on your expectations.


If you expect to gain sales from a promotional item that you have given away without any type of qualification, then you are probably wasting your money. If instead, you ask people to provide an email address or fill a questionnaire, then you will at least have generated a potential lead. However, it’s also true most people are willing to give you some information in return for a good item (t-shirt, notebook, etc.) without having the slightest intention of buying from you.

Brand recognition?

If you expect to gain name/brand recognition, and nothing else, and that’s all you want, then you will have spent your money well. Promotional items are designed by nature to boost brand recognition. Generally, they are items that you use regularly, like pens or mugs, making the name on the item very familiar to you.


Bottom line

If you want to boost your name recognition, and you have money to spend, it may work in your favor to produce some promotional items. My advice is to choose useful items that people keep around for a while.

If you want to boost your sales, you have to do more than hand out stuff with your name on it. The decision to buy is not simply based on name recognition. It is based on need, trust and perception of value. There are better ways to accomplish that then spending money on pens and other items. Especially if that pen is never used to write you a check.

In order to allocate your marketing budget wisely, you must be clear on your goals and how much you are willing to spend to accomplish them.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Products that promote

Promotional products or advertising specialties have been around for quite a long time. Wikipedia claims that there were commemorative buttons for George Washington back in 1789. The Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), the trade association for the industry, was founded more than 100 years ago in 1904.

Promotional products should be part of any marketing campaign. According to research by the PPAI, promotional products help create a positive brand image. As for hard numbers, according to a PPAI research study, 52% of business travelers who received a promotional product did business with the advertiser. That is more than half.  That same study found that three quarters of respondents recall the advertiser name on a product that they received. And last year, the industry set a new record by selling $19.4 billion in promotional products. This sales volume indicates that promotional products outperform other marketing communications such as sponsorships, cable TV, and outdoor advertising.

According to Sean McColl, vice president at PromoCorp, Inc., an Alexandria, VA based promotional products company, “having something tangible in hand is increasingly a way to be noticed.” Sean points out that we are being bombarded with electronic communication–everything from radio ads to text messages–so the coffee mug emblazoned with a company logo sitting on your desk stands out. It isn’t going anywhere, and chances are, you may be using it on a daily basis. It can certainly help with brand awareness and recognition.

In order to be effective, a “promotional product should be the right product for the right target market. Something that the user will hold on to,”  says Sean. For instance, a recent college graduate is interested in different products than a CEO.  Sean counsels his clients to be creative and to use a tiered approach for products. For instance, at a trade show, you should have an inexpensive piece such as a pen or customized candy for general consumption. If you talk to a prospect for a while longer and you think the prospect may be interested in further discussion, you could hand him or her a slightly more expensive item, say in the $5 range. And finally, if you speak to a decision-maker with whom want to have a more in-depth conversation, you may give him or her a $20-$25 specialty. This approach makes sense. It gives customers several ways to remember you and it gives you as an advertiser, a way to reward potential business.

Sean says that promotional products are an integral part of a marketing campaign and can be used in many ways. They can be used as a thank you gift, or a follow up to a trade show, they can be a leave-behind or an introduction. A very popular product right now is known as the “sticky drive.” This is a flash drive pre-loaded with information or a link to a website. The drive also has plenty of space to store your files, and a logo on the outside. More and more, companies are getting creative with the look of the flash drives. There is one shaped like a ballpoint pen, that is indeed a working pen, with an LED light, and a pointer. What a great idea in today’s multi-task oriented world.

Since there are thousands of items to choose from, you should consider how you will use the product and how you will get it to your prospects. The old stand-bys–stress balls, mugs, pens and apparel–may still be the most effective. But as shipping prices go up, you may want to consider flat items that can be mailed via the regular mail.  Because of shipping cost considerations, Sean says a popular item for Christmas this year is a customized CD, featuring the name of your company and offering a selection of music.

All in all, my favorite promotional products are pens. As Sean says, they are inoffensive, useful and inexpensive. I bet you have company pens on your desk right now–I do.

  • Pens
  • Mugs
  • USB/Flash Drives
  • Mouse Pads
  • T-Shirts
  • Candy
  • Music CDs

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.


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