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Electronics: Watt's Current

By Marge Ryan-Atkinson

Electronics are enjoying a resurgence of late as one of the most consistently effective, in-demand categories of promotional products. Why? When you factor in the innovative, high-quality manufacturing, futuristic designs and palatable price points, it all adds up!

Regardless of how old they are, people love to play with toys. And while there are plenty of promotional products with "play potential," not many also have the functionality, interactive appeal and attractive price of today's small electronic products.

In the last few years, sales of logoed electronic items have increased exponentially. That's because more firms just like yours are using them for their marketing efforts and have seen the successful results. High retention, sophisticated design, multiple features and, again, the entertainment factor are just a few of the reasons why electronics have turned so many businesses on to their promotional possibilities.

And most counselors don't see this trend reversing any time soon. "There's a buzz about electronics," says promotional consultant Larry Yurkonis. "We live in an electronic age, and more people are comfortable with electronics." Counselor Paula Schulman is also seeing interest rise. "With the influx of the Internet and computers," she says, "people are utilizing electronics to get their message across."

Another counselor, Dominic Lee, concurs, noting that in addition to being fun, electronics have a high retention value. "It's something the recipient's going to keep. And it reflects very well on the giver," he says. One item that's remained popular is the robotic calculator. When you press a button, the window cover opens, arcs back and creates a stand. Counselor Mark Lockhart says, "Anything that does something when you press a button is very popular."

Lockhart mentions that multifunction travel alarm clocks with global time displays are also one of the hottest items going, due to the fact that many firms have employees who travel frequently, and with companies conducting even more business abroad, knowing what time it is in several different time zones is an important consideration.

Still, there needs to be a certain simplicity; no product will work promotionally if the recipient can't figure out how to use it. "People want something that's user-friendly," says consultant Mark Soffa, explaining that technological advances have led to better quality computer chips that run calculators, organizers and other electronic items. Fortunately, those same advances have led to a more electronically-adept public.

Price Down, Quality Up
Only 10 years ago, most people were unfamiliar with electronic items, and the cutting-edge stuff was prohibitively expensive. Back then, cheaper products were viewed as being of poor quality - with good reason. But these perceptions have almost completely turned around. Advances in electronics and heavy competition from Asian manufacturers have raised the quality and lowered the price. With the increase in quality, better, more intriguing products have emerged, employing the same kind of computer-chip technology used in high-end electronics. And it's this merging of manufacturing and ideas that makes electronic specialties so attractive for a promotion, gift or award.

Although electronics sometimes cost more than other traditional logoed products, the prices are significantly lower than they were even five years ago. And they still command respect among recipients. "They definitely have a higher perceived value," says Soffa. "And perception is reality."

Counselor David Fink has also seen his electronics sales increase each year. While there's no single item that firms tend to choose more than others, extra features do help, he says. Whether it's a combination AM/FM radio/flashlight/lantern or an alarm clock that doubles as a memo recorder, people like things that let them do more with less. From "talking" mouse pads to portable, multifunctional planners you can throw in your briefcase, electronics that can make work more efficient, streamlined and fun become virtually indispensable.

Keeping Track Of High-Tech
Many electronic promotional products, such as alarm clocks, calculators, radios and laser pens, aren't new. But the circuitry that operates them continues to develop, leading to more integrated, sophisticated functions.

"An awful lot of companies that use electronics are in the high-tech field," says counselor Michael Neary, adding that high-tech people tend to like clever, MacGyver-like gadgets. Translation: The more an item does, the more intriguing it is.

Many familiar products have gotten overhauls. AM/FM radios now sport unique designs with modern appeal. From swirls to swivels to novelty shapes, today's radios are a world away from what once sat on desks or hung on shower walls. Another plus: "They're things people would love to have but wouldn't go out to buy themselves," says counselor Robbie Robinette.

And taking a page from the wildly-successful lollipop-hued iMAC translucents, color now plays a huge role in a product's design. From silver and black to blue, grape or red, many of today's cutting-edge electronics are daring, funky and almost gallery-worthy in their aesthetic appeal.

Newer Spins
To many, calculators may seem a bit passé. But one that resembles a Palm Pilot and tells you the time and temperature - and not just in your part of the world, but in places like Bora Bora (should you have a burning desire to know if it's balmy on any given day) - is a different thing altogether. With products like these, the "wow" quotient is very high.

In addition to touch-screen calculators, there are also multifunction planners featuring calendars and other traditional features. Some, when first activated, flash a company's logo or message for about 10 seconds. Other calculators can perform currency and metric conversions. "They're favored by government agencies, utilities and those in agriculture," says counselor C. Peter Van Schaack, who also sells a lot of electronic organizers (a.k.a. databanks). "They look like an awful lot for what they cost," he says. "Banks and financial services love to use them, as does anybody with a sales force."

Databanks store names, addresses, memos and schedules. Some can even upload and download to and from your computer. "I don't see people writing in planners as much as I used to," says Yurkonis. "Rather, busy people are moving toward paperless recordkeeping."

Laser pens have also found a promotional niche. When they debuted several years ago, they were a novelty item and all the rage - but with a high price tag to match. Today, sleek laser pens with custom filters are reasonably priced. The filters can even be customized with a company logo for presentations.

Electronic keytags that beam lights and record messages, as well as pocket-sized radios (with headsets), are also among the electronics that many firms have embraced for promotional use. Fairly small devices, like credit-card size radios, are highly imprintable, as are personal fans. And in that rare instance where an item really can't accommodate your company logo/message, customized packaging is usually an option.

In A Galaxy Not Too Far Away ...
But the menu of imprintable electronics available is far more extensive than the bread-and-butter basics. For example, an acrylic picture frame with a black base that illuminates the photo. An auto air purifier that runs on batteries or a DC adapter and removes smoke and pollutants from inside the car. Personal CD players. Cell-phone rechargers and hands-free adapters. Component-style stereo radios. Phones with built-in calculators. Computer mouses. Touch-screen units. Contemporary, eye-catching materials and design. And all at palatable price points.

What's even more enticing is that electronics haven't yet reached their full potential. Many innovative changes will occur in the next few years. "Eventually, even the Palm Pilot will be a promotional product," Robinette predicts.

In the near future, our need to play - and to promote - will be satisfied by items that today seem like futuristic inventions from The Jetsons. But then again, so did the fax machine not so long ago….

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved..
Margaret Ryan-Atkinson is a freelance writer based in Langhorne, PA.

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