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Promotional Products: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Advertising specialties more than hold their own within the marketing arena, because they are cost-effective—and they work. As a marketing tool, it works 24/7—as long as your customer keeps that pen, or bag, or coaster, they are seeing your name.

Promotional products help build brand awareness; can increase traffic at a tradeshow; provide nonprofits, school groups, and charities with a method to generate funds; and allow a business to easily recognize valuable employees. In terms of building brand awareness, promotional products soar: according to Advertising Specialty Institute, 82 percent of recipients of advertising specialties can identify the advertiser. Even more impressive—62 percent did business with the advertiser after receiving an item.

The US advertising specialties is a $19.4 billion industry. During the third-quarter of 2013, reports ASI, there was a 4.6 percent year-over-year increase in sales among its distributor members. The largest distributors, defined as those with revenue over $5 million, reported increased revenues of 6.1 percent, the highest of any group within ASI’s membership.

Most Popular Items

Study results show promo products are consistently popular, with consumers owning about 10 items they generally keep for six months. Based on industry revenue, the 10 most popular products are:

  • Shirts
  • Bags
  • Headwear
  • Desk/office accessories
  • Writing instruments
  • Other wearables
  • Glassware/ceramics
  • Computer-related
  • Health and safety
  • Electronics

In fact, according to ASI, as reported in Wearable magazine,  published by the association, the fusion of digital technology with philanthropic efforts has created a powerhouse charity fundraiser in the humble T-shirt. More  than 60,000 “Boston Strong,” T-shirts were sold, allowing creators Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens, Emerson College students, to donate $900,000 to the Boston One Fund. Rachel Morell of Ramalama Enterprises created the “Eff Cancer” shirt to help fund treatment for Haley Bellows, a 21-year-old George Fox University student and cancer patient whose insurance was dropped. So far, the shirts have raised nearly $7,000.

ASI reports T-shirts represented $2.7 billion of the promotional products market in 2012, or 13.8 percent of the total sold. All told, 44 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed for ASI’s 2013 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions own a promotional shirt.

T-shirts are also incorporating advanced technologies, such as QR (Quick Response) codes. In its first foray into QR codes, Stock Marketing Services an affiliate of iPROMOTEu, printed T-shirts with QR codes for Motion Picture Institute’s of Michigan premiere of its Rob Zombie horror movie, “Mimesis.”

The QR code linked to the MPI website. T-shirts were sold in theaters and worn by staff. 

Stock Marketing now offers QR codes on a whole range of promotional products, including wrist brands, custom guitar picks, dog tags, lanyards, and even Mardi Gras beads.

Proforma Vindee Associates in Norristown, PA, sells a good amount of drink ware, writing instruments, adhesive note pads, and tote bags, reports owner Sue Smiley. “We believe that most customers are looking for an item that has longevity, not just because of how long it will last, but how frequently their customers will use it,” says Smiley. “The more practical the item, the more likely a customer or prospect is will use it and ultimately see the business' name.”

Proforma Vindee currently works with California Tattoos for a custom pocket calendar for its credit union clients. “Although CalTattoo offered a credit union version, we were able to customize the messages and some of the dates and brought in several orders from existing clients,” says Smiley.

A few years back, Proforma Vindee, which has a "never say no" policy, produced a self-promotional item, a sound button on a business card holder. “The ‘Yes, we can’ button sounded like the wave of a magic wand and is (hopefully) seen by our clients daily as a reminder that we can handle any project,” says Smiley.

In Fort Worth, TX, Proforma DFW Marketing’s most popular promotional items are embroidered apparel and pens. “I think it’s probably what the end-user thinks of most often, so it makes it easier to sell,” says Lori Walton, owner. “They don’t always know of the crazy stuff available, so it’s what they request. They are also functional."

However, some customers do look beyond pens. “I have a client that likes to do fun and unusual holiday gifts every year,” acknowledges Walton. “One year we did barbeque sets that were made out of antlers. Last year we did custom corn hole games. This year, we are doing personalized bocce ball sets in their logo colors in a branded wooden box. I look forward to this order every year, because it’s always something new and unique.”

The shop also produces items that incorporate technology, such as pens with a stylus on the end, cloths to clean electronic devices, phone holders, and flash drives.

Proforma DFW Marketing often partners with printers on projects, especially as its looks to selling more commercial print services to the increase the offerings it provides to clients. “We’ve done envelopes, brochures, business cards, posters, and postcards,” says Walton.

Both of these shops are part of the Proforma network—a $500 million network of print and promotional product distributors with more than 50,000 clients through more than 750 franchise members worldwide. Its sales for 2012 were up nine percent over 2011.

“Proforma member owners can provide complete marketing solutions for their clients, including a complete array of commercial printing, sheetfed, half web and full web, promotional products, signs and banners, point of purchase displays, and even multi-media solutions including website design and video production,” says Greg Muzzillo, founder of Proforma Publication. “We also offer eCommerce solutions, including online ordering, print and fulfillment programs, and online company stores.”