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17 Reasons to Use Promotional Products

by Connie O’Kane

Do you really believe in promotional products? Sure, you use them to promote your company, but would you really like to be somewhere else in marketing? Do you dream of 60-second spots during the Super Bowl as you sign off on a promotional products order?

Shame on you. Promotional products are the most cost-effective – make that most effective, period –ad vehicle around. If you’ve been ignoring your counselor’s advice to harness their power even further, here are 17 reasons why you should wake up and smell the coffee (in a logoed mug, of course).

1. They’re cool – no, really
Many of the hottest trend-setters and savviest spin doctors use promotional products these days. That’s because once consumers (read: your customers) are onto something special – they want to let everyone know how hip they are. And those behind the trend or fad are happy to oblige.

Consider this: The Blair Witch Project, the most profitable film in the history of the world (on a costs vs. revenues scale) used logoed merchandise early and often.

Made for $30,000, Blair Witch’s worldwide grosses topped $200 million. As soon as it was obvious the young filmmakers had captured something special, film distributor Artisan Entertainment sent 100college interns to local bookstores, hot clothing stores and coffee shops wearing Blair Witch T-shirts and passing out Blair Witch comic books.

Once things ignited at the box office, promoters kept the Blair Witch Web site humming. And the film’s signature shot of actress Heather Donahue in extreme closeup is available on buttons, magnets and keytags. Elsewhere on the site are T-shirts, lighters, shot glasses and pins. “I’ve never seen a film marketed so well in my entire life,” one film executive told USA Today.

2. Everybody’s Doing It
There seem to be few entities that don’t use logoed goods in some way. The Dismal Scientist’s site of economic wonkery offers coffee mugs. The foul-mouthed kids on South Park have their own line of merchandise. Even Spam (the food, not the e-mail) has a 28-page catalog of promotional products.

For many firms in the arts and entertainment industry, these items can be a new, steady stream of revenue. NBC sells logoed merchandise for Saturday Night Live. Disney-owned ABC recently mailed catalogs of merchandise tied to its shows. Outside the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s controversial “Sensation” exhibit, the gift shop sold shark staplers and pillows, a reference to sculptor Damien Hirst.

Nor is the trend limited to big-bucks guys. Small towns – even neighborhoods – have their names on sweatshirts. Elementary schools have entire lines of logoed stuff. It doesn’t take much critical mass before almost any company, organization or group can support a full slate of promotional products.

3. They’re Inexpensive
One of the greatest things about promotional products is that they’re so incredibly affordable.

Counselor Greg Emmer uses the example of choosing between a local television commercial and a promotional products campaign. You might pay $3,000 for a package of six or seven 30-second commercials (including production costs), and you’ll be lucky if more than one runs during a popular viewing slot. And while the TV station might say there’ll be 5,000 viewers, how many of them will be visiting the facilities, grabbing a snack or channel surfing when your spot runs?

Now imagine you had a budget for 600 promotional products at $5 each. Think of the items you can get; specialties that would not only guarantee recipients won’t be flushing a toilet when it makes its initial impression, but that those impressions will keep on coming as well.

Another thing: Promotional products are one of the few ad vehicles that can stand alone. Most advertising needs to be supported with more advertising. Have a Web site? You need to advertise to get people to click on. How about television? Networks use millions of dollars of precious airtime to direct viewers to programs shown at other times. But a promotional product usually has the target audience coming to it – and vice-versa.

4. Anything’s Imprintable
Now that the remote control has a permanent place on America’s coffee table, the logo has become more important than ever. Commercials regularly feature an advertiser’s logo. Networks put their logos in the corner of the screen. So anxious are advertisers to capture a few seconds of a channel-surfer’s time that they’ll sponsor scoreboards, race cars and and stadium signs.

Technology makes this trend stranger. There are now virtual ads – placements of logos on a TV screen that don’t appear at the actual location. The center of a soccer field, for example, might be just grass in the stadium, but can sport a logo digitally placed on the screen. This allows different firms to have their logos on screen during different parts of the broadcast. East Coast viewers may see a different logo than West Coasters.

But perhaps the most remarkable placement of a logo occurred this past July. Pizza Hut put its logo on a 200-foot Russian Proton Rocket that delivered part of the International Space Station. Pizza Hut was banking that the exposure during launch time would justify its fee, said to be around $1 million. The logo helped roll out a campaign that included in-store promotions and other tie-ins.

5. It’s The Medium That “Remains To be Seen”
Advertising types often measure the effectiveness of media in terms of number of impressions and cost-per-impression. Promotional products are one of the few media that defy these measurements. “Specialties are repeated impressions without repeated costs,” Emmer says.

Bill Peck, a counselor, uses the example of a $6,000 order of 700 sound cards used by a major publisher. “Over $8.57 per exposure?” says Peck. “No. Recipients are still calling the publisher placing ads, as they continue to play with the cards.

6. People Take Them Personally
Promotional products used to be bought only by companies that wanted to spread their message. But now just about anyone can use them as a way to express a point of view.

Ohio State University superfan T. Michael McGuire printed up and sold some shirts that said “Beat Michigan.” And remember; in such cases it’s not only ordinary folks using logoed products as a mouthpiece. At the height of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, when NBC reporter Lisa Myers was perceived to be sitting on a big story of an alleged sexual misdeed by the president, a member of Congress started wearing a button reading “Free Lisa Myers.” Broker Morgan Stanley holds strategy sessions with clients present and gives out T-shirts as prizes to forecasters making bad calls.

7. They Can Help You Hedge Your Bets
Almost every advertising trend that hits the market puts a side bet on promotional products. Think about it. When database marketing was new, didn’t the most successful advertisers include a promotional product in their mailings? Or if they jumped on the demo/psychographics bandwagon, they did it with promotional products. When marketers tried things like stunt marketing – singing-dog contests at malls – you can bet they had a nearby booth stocked with logoed goods.

Nostalgia marketing? Give away a classic image on a specialty and people clamor for them. Even arguably the most important trend in ’90s advertising, the Internet, makes extraordinary use of gifts.

8. The Rise Of Affordable Four-Color Processing
It’s like the day your family got its first color TV. Promotional products look better than ever, and one of the main reasons is that logos can now be rendered in four colors at prices previously only available on one- or two-color jobs. One of the big stories of the last decade has been the ability to reproduce colors with clarity and sophisticated registration on a silkscreened imprint.

There’s more. Holograms and other 3-D effects continue to get play. And personalization is showing up more and more, as technology makes it more affordable.

9. They Constantly Re-Invent Themselves
There are well over 250,000 different promotional products currently available. Add to that the creativity your counselor brings, and you can make use of a new product, idea, twist to an old product, application, etc., nearly as often as you like.



10. The Web Loves Promotional Products
When chess master Garry Kasparov faced off against the world in a cyber-chessmatch sponsored by Microsoft, Visa was there giving out “World Team” T-shirts if you signed up for a game. This is typical on the Net. Content providers have only a few seconds to get peoples’ attention, and promotional products are often the bait to get them to linger a bit longer.

Net-surfers love promotional products too. A survey by the nonprofit think tank Privacy & American Business found that nearly nine out of 10 online respondents felt it was fair to give personal information to companies that gave them a “valuable benefit,”which involved things like free e-mail and product discounts, but also a fair share of promotional products. And 59% said they wouldn’t mind if their e-mail addresses were passed on to other reputable companies.

11. They’re The Ultimate Traffic-Builder
Many firms not only give logoed stuff away once you’re at their Web site, they also do it to get you there in the first place. In fact, is there any new development better suited for promotional products than a Web address? You have a short series of letters and symbols that opens up a whole world for the recipient. Less is more on a promotional product. If the address is simple enough, logoed products can really be walking hyperlinks. Passers-by can scribble down the Web site and then rush to their computers.

12. They Don’t Cause Cancer
Don’t laugh. Now that tobacco companies have agreed not to use promotional products to sell cigarettes, we can take to heart what the government said in the first place. In proposing a ban of cigarette brand names on promotional products, the FDA laid out quite a case for their effectiveness.

From the Federal Register: “This form of advertising is particularly effective with young people. Young people have relatively little disposable income, so promotions are appealing because they represent a means of getting something for nothing.”

A federal court chimed in: “Printed advertising is customarily quickly read and discarded by typical customers. ‘Utilitarian objects,’ on the other hand, are retained precisely because they continue to have utility. They may be around for years. And each use of them brings a new reminder of the sponsor and his product.” Now there’s a testimonial.

13. Corporations Are Wising Up
Maybe they expect to make it up in volume, but the big trend in the computer world these days is to give things away. You see $30 software packages with a $30 rebate. Your 50-cent newspaper is free if you log on. Dozens of places offer free e-mail and fax service. You can get free electronic greeting cards.

The biggest computer promotion of last year involved a free machine if you signed up for one of several ISPs and mailed in a bunch of rebate slips. That’s for those who didn’t get a free computer and Net service in return for looking at a lot of on-screen ads.

All these businesspeople have figured out that by giving something away, they can get something in return that will pay off in the long run. That’s the message promotional products have been sending for the last 125 years or so.

14. They’re Now Available Yesterday
We admit it; it once seemed promotional products took their sweet time from the order pad to your desk. There was some rush service here and there, but for most products you simply had to wait. Not anymore. Almost a quarter of orders placed by companies like yours are completed in five days or less. In many cases, 48- or even 24-hour turnaround is possible.

15. It’s The Only Form Of Advertising People Don’t Mind
Not everybody hates all advertising. But let’s face it; most of it is a drag to consumers. No one wants commercials interrupting their TV viewing (unless it’s a really funny commercial or really bad show). No one likes icons blinking on the side of a Web site, even if the information center screen is free and valuable. “Advertising’s designed to be intrusive,” Emmer says.

In all cases but promotional products, that is. People want premiums and ad specialties. They pick them up in show booths, take them away from conferences, mail away coupons to get them and even make their workplace safer to earn them.

16. People Like To Get Free Stuff
A few years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked readers for a list of things they always managed to get free. It found that while a pen aficionado might be willing to shell out big bucks for the latest turbo-charged ballpoint, he wouldn’t think of paying for an office coffee mug. Many of us will go to our graves without ever buying another keytag or mousepad.

That means your firm has the chance to become that keytag, mug or mousepad. “Without promotional products, what would we put in our pockets?” asks promotional consultant Glen Holt. Wouldn’t you love to have that kind of exposure?

17. They’re The #1 Ad Medium In The Deepest Amazon Jungles
At least according to Holt. He found this out a bit unscientifically by watching a National Geographic special. The documentary crew was accompanying explorers looking for one of those forgotten tribes that’s never been in contact with modern man. “They go through streams full of crocodiles, and cut through reeds with machetes,” Holt says. “When the explorers finally meet someone from this lost tribe – surprise! He has a T-shirt that says, ‘Pepsi Cola.’”

Let’s see TV match that kind of penetration!

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Connie O’Kane is senior writer of Imprint.

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