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Quenching A Promotional Thirst

By Lisa Bennett

It’s hot and cool. The colors are brighter, the designs more elaborate and the selection has never been better. In an industry with hundreds of thousands of items to choose from, drinkware is still a promotional products powerhouse. What, exactly, fuels its enduring popularity?

According to the Wall Street Journal, drinkware not only provides a long-lasting impression, it also offers one of the best returns on a client’s investment. If the average beverage-holder lasts at least a year, research shows, it will generate somewhere between 15 and 50 impressions per five-day work week, or 750 to 2,500 impressions a year. Based on an average price of $5, the cost per im-pression is somewhere between $.006 and $.001. Stan Breckenridge, vice president of a glassware company, believes the Journal report is spot-on. “Drinkware has a higher perceived value for the cost than many other products,” he says. “The drinkware category is in the top five selling promotional products every year for a reason. People don’t throw these items away. The investment the end-user makes pays off for years. Products like that are tough to find.”

The Environmental Angle
It started on the shelves of retail coffee chains with well-displayed, colorful travel mugs billed as “environmentally conscious” beverage consumption. The idea to make it politically correct to own personal drink-ware was, in a word, brilliant. Coffee shops sold travel mugs bearing their logos, which gave them free advertising while saving millions of dollars on rising paper cup costs. The hefty retail margins didn’t hurt either. The retail trend turned out to be a windfall for promotional products as well. Suddenly, travel mugs weren’t just practical; they were cool, and friendly to the planet to boot.

Mark Hobbs, president of a drinkware art studio, says that while the coffee craze naturally boosted logoed drinkware sales, some other factors enter the picture. “Drinkware is the quintessential promotional product,” he says. “It lasts longer than most promotional items, and people get personally attached to theirs. It’s not just a visual connection, either. The design has to be comfortable and practical, whether you’re in your car, your home or at your desk. It has to fit your lifestyle.”

Taking It To Go
Whether you’re on a commuter train, sitting in traffic or at the office, our society seems to be physically welded to our coffee mugs and water bottles. Health care advocates repeat the 64-oz.-of-water-a-day mantra, while caffeine addicts panic at the thought of being further than 12 feet away from their travel mug.

And decorated drinkware seems to be the customary accessory. “Mugs are basically a small billboard on a person’s desk,” says Janine Fidurski, marketing communications manager of a promotional products company, who points out that drinkware is an excellent way to take advantage of commuters, pedestrians and the enormous pool of working Americans to get a logo/message out for a reasonable price. “The innovative designs now offered in drinkware make it fun for the end-user to find something a little unusual,” she says. “It’s durable and practical, but with a little imagination, can also have some flair,” says Fidurski. “It’s a classic, but it’s fun to sell.”

What’s Your Function?
At the dawn of the modern promotional products industry, the staple was plain white, one-color imprint, eight-oz. mugs. These mugs still sell, but end-users generally want to see more variety in design and function. Some drinkware items collapse for storage, some fit specifically into auto-mobile cup holders, some come equipped with a clip handle and some “James Bond” styles offer a secret storage compartment for keys, vitamins, or spare change.

Colors are also changing. “The trend for fall is red,” notes Anna Ramos, vice president of a ceramic drinkware company. “It’s eye-catching, it’s a beautiful color to brighten a desk and many companies use red in their logo. Red is a natural for drinkware. And drinkware is a versatile promotional item; it’s not just for coffee anymore. We filled an order for a distributor whose client used our clip-handle travel mug as a gift for finishers of the San Francisco Marathon. The runners used the mug for their drinks and could then clip them to their backpacks or bags. They loved it so much the sponsor sent letters to the distributor and to us about how much they liked it.”

Renee Maxey, president and manufacturer of promotional products, feels individuality in drinkware is key. “Everybody has their own beverage favorites,” she says. “Whether it’s soda, coffee or water, people always seem to go with a beverage in hand. Our custom holders come in any shape imaginable. People love receiving them, but more importantly, they use them.”

How To Top It
Remember when coffee drinkers lived on the edge, actually drinking coffee in mugs without lids? Today, many companies actually require employees to have lids on all drinkware. It prevents spilling hot beverages on co-workers and yourself, and the workplace floors are easier to maintain when there’s not a trail of spills from the coffeemaker to the office. And who wants to be the one to call the IT guy and explain why there’s a river of latte running through the keyboard on your new computer? How many floor mats have been salvaged since the invention of the lidded mug?

Lids come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Some snap on, some have hinges. Some even offer lids for lefties that screw on so the handle is on the left side. Jim O’Brien, a sales rep for an imprinted products supplier, says sometimes the lid can be the deal-maker or breaker. “As mundane as a lid might seem, it can be the significant piece in the sale,” he says. “Some people like snap-ons, others can’t live without a screw-on. In drinkware, like everything else, details matter.”

He adds that while most clients are familiar with drinkware, sometimes you have to be a little creative in the presentation to get them to understand what a great promo idea it can be. “I met a client for lunch a month ago,” he says. “I made sure I got to the restaurant early and asked the waitress to put a couple of decorated glass mugs in the freezer. When she brought our drinks out in a frosted mug with the client’s logo, he was blown away. I got a very nice order that day. It took a little effort, but it paid off and the client loved it.”

What Makes Drinkware Style?
Everyone has his or her own favorite beverage-holder, but are there really style trends in the drinkware category? Dan Cepa, director of corporate markets for brand name drinkware, says, “Absolutely. It’s not just a trend; it’s fashion. Let’s face it, drinkware is a mature category. We’re fortunate to be able to watch first-hand what’s selling on the retail side. We’re seeing a wider selection of colors and materials. Coffee’s a religion to some people; we need drinkware that speaks to their personal style. People love their coffee or other drinks, but want something stylish to travel with. There’s definitely a demand for style-driven colors and designs.”

The Decoration Difference
One of the benefits of selling drinkware is the larger decoration area. Industry suppliers offer multicolor decorations, screens, engraving and decals, and new options are always emerging. Mark Schroer, vice president of sales and marketing of a drinkware and promotional item company, stresses that the right decoration makes all the difference. “Sales of travel mugs have been growing for several reasons; one reason is the perceived value of the product has risen over the years. End-users love drinkware in part because we can do an event-specific decoration using a multicolor imprint. With the right decoration, even if it ends up in a break room or at home, you still get the repetitive exposure.”

Packing Plus
Drinkware on its own is usually a well-received gift. But for some occasions, a glass or coffee mug packed with candy and tied with ribbon is a step up. Some distributors even pack drinkware with gourmet coffee or hot chocolate. Shelly Constantinescu, a rep with an promotional distributor, says most suppliers are willing to work with distributors if they want to pack special items with drinkware. “They’re usually happy to accommodate us,” she says. “We had one large order for a pharmaceutical company where we didn’t have much time, so we packed the mugs ourselves with chocolate kisses. There were a lot of volunteers for that job!”

Vessels With Value
Drinkware can fit every budget. Companies seeking memorable business gifts can easily use set of etched glasses. Barry Dyas, president of a company that supplies crystal glassware, considers them a natural for firms looking for a high-end gift. “Our products are primarily used for incentive programs or thank-yous,” he says. “Individually personalized drinkware is a little more special; it’s not likely to be discarded. We also offer a gift-certificate program, because sometimes people like to choose their own glassware.”

Whether it’s for a thank-you, meeting, merger or promotion, drinkware can offer something for the occasion … or the beverage.

COPYRIGHT © 2004 Advertising Specialties Institute, all rights reserved.
Lisa Bennett is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

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