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Tote Bags as Promotional Products

By Matt Histand

Convention Tote There you are at the big convention. It s been a successful day; your company is sure to benefit from the contacts you've made. As you exit the hall, you look down thankful for the complimentary tote bag an exhibitor gave you, currently overflowing with literature.

Now, flash forward to summer. Your family is at the beach and the very same tote bag is now filled with towels, suntan lotion and the kids' toys. You fight your way through the crowded beach, find a spot and collapse in the sun. As you nap, the bag sits in plain view for all to see.

A few more months go by. The days begin growing shorter and the weather colder. You're going skiing, and need something to carry your stuff in. Again you pull out the tote bag. This time you toss it on your back window ledge for the ride up to the slopes. Now it's a moving billboard.

As you can gather from these scenarios, the life of a tote bag can last long after the original promotion. Unlike some items that scream out advertisement, tote bags tend to work in an understated way, sometimes becoming part of a person's every day routine without them even realizing it.

"The good thing about a tote bag is that it's usually used in day-to-day living; in public places, to carry things back and forth to the beach, the grocery store, toting things around for the kids, whatever," says promotional consultant Bob Leavitt. "It gets used…so you continually get that advertising out."

Tote Bags can be targeted to suit a particular event or promotion. They appeal to many different tastes and can conform to almost any budget. And, as counselor John Hiles, Jr. points out, they have the advantage of a wearable's large imprint area, but provide more daily visibility because they don't have to be washed after every use.

Start with the Basics
"You can get tote bags now in a multitude of colors, two-tone combinations, zipper tops, different kinds of linings, different fabrics, whereas it used to be your regular tote bags were just seven- or eight-ounce cotton with a web handle, and that was it," says Lynn Ward, a promotional consultant. "They've really come a long way."

The variety of tote bags and their accompanying features are so numerous, the hardest part may be narrowing it down to just one. Complicating matters even more is the fact that there is no real definition of what a tote bag is. Past notions of a cheap throwaway are history; when, for example, was the last time you referred to an all-leather, custom-embossed tote bag as cheap? These are no longer your parents' tote bags.

First things first. Despite a bag's final appearance, it all starts with what it s made of. Tote bags come in a myriad of different fabrics and materials. More traditional materials are cotton, nylon, canvas and leather. Some of the newer totes are made of vinyl, mesh and even combination materials such as vylon (vinyl-backed nylon). That's not to mention the many trademarked materials some firms have introduced in recent years.

Another concern is the actual imprint you want on the bag. If you want a silkscreened image, regardless of the number of colors, certain bags work better than others. Canvas, cotton, nylon, vinyl and most of the numerous composite materials take a screen printed image very well. Leather and mesh, on the other hand, do not. Leather is better suited for embossing or having something attached to it; a metal clasp or plate, for instance. Mesh can usually only be imprinted on what is normally a small pocket on the front of the bag. Enlarging the pocket is possible, but it s an added feature that can affect the price.

Shopper Add the Extras
And what are some of the extra features that can be added to a tote bag? They're limited only by your imagination: multicolored screen prints, buttons, zippers, additional pockets, bold colors, extra long handles, wheels and, in some cases, custom designs and sizing. For each of these added extras, the price will usually be higher. However, anything that augments the standard tote bag (a pocket and a handle) could help your bag to stand out from the crowd, especially at a trade show or convention where they are popular handouts. "[Tradeshow attendees] are going to have five or six [tote bags], so if it's got some handy features in it, or if it s decorated nicer than than others, with multiple colors or something like that or a larger sized one rather than a small one, then it would get used more often once it's taken back home," says Jerry Hatter a promotional consultant. But while added features, bold colors and space-age materials are all well and good, in the end it might still come down to just one thing for some firms - price.

"First of all, know your budget, then you've got to find the best bag for the money," advises Hiles. Beyond price, the type of promotional event can also influence what type of bag to use. For instance, if hundreds of bags will be handed out at a tradeshow or convention, it might be wise to use an inexpensive nylon or canvas bag as opposed to a leather bag. Conversely, if the tote bag is to be given out in limited quantities at a national sales meeting, most people would expect something more high-end.

One thing to keep in mind when ordering is that as the year progresses, some materials become limited due to government-enforced quotas. Promotional consultant Adam Christensen explains, "Toward the end of the year we have people asking for a specific bag ... and we can t bring it in anymore because the borders are closed."

For this reason, some manufacturers try anticipate this situation early so there are no problems later on. "We take into account that quotas are going to come into play at the end of the year, so that we order with that in mind. In the beginning of the year, it looks as if we have too much inventory, but we know that we may not be able to get that bag so we over-order," says Harry Himes, promotional consultant. Be aware of the time of year your order is placed and be prepared for the possibility of a shortage, depending on the material. Your counselor can help you plan accordingly.

Promotional Possibilities
Totebags can be used for just about any marketing promotion, though the most common are tradeshows or conventions. They can be distributed alone or filled with literature or samples. "I think the one place that we sell more tote bags than anything else is [for] conventions or tradeshows," says counselor Royce Berger.

Vinyl totes offer a few variations. Transparent vinyl lends itself to particular features that can be used to your advantage. Since products placed in the tote can be seen by all, it can be used as an eye-catching display case for other promotional products placed inside. Another use is as a last-minute tote that can accommodate a catalog or flyer in its front pocket. Since there is no imprint required, these can be ordered shortly before a show and stuffed with your literature, just in time for the event.

Corporate gifts are another way to use tote bags. Having one waiting for a person in their room when they arrive for a sales meeting can make a great impression. And if it s a high-end bag, such as a leather tote embossed with a company name and person's initials, it s more likely to end up a part of their every-day routine.

Deluxe Tote The uses of tote bags are virtually limitless. They can be used as delivery devices for other promotions, secondary products in connection with another promotions, given out by stores as shopping bags, used as leave-behinds, sales incentives and gifts with purchase.

Tracking Totebag Trends
The trend among lower-end totes seems to lie in variety. New printing approaches are being discovered as technology increases, making available such possibilities as customizing each order, providing coordinating handles and overall imprinting - a process that imprints the fabric of the tote during the manufacturing stage, before it s assembled, increasing its perceived value.

Promotional consultant Mark Knoblach points out that fashion plays a strong role in the tote bag's popularity. Whether it's bolder designs with brighter colors and added features or simpler designs with few colors and no features, the selections are being expanded to offer both.

High-end tote bags are affected by fashion tastes, but another phenomenon is just as important to their resurgence - relaxed corporate dress codes. Dress-down days, at one time reserved for holidays or Fridays, have quickly spread throughout the business sector to become a popular alternative to the stuffy environment of years past. As this has changed, so have business accessories, including tote bags.

Jamie Cimino, promotional consultant, says that soft-sided leather totes for business use are becoming increasingly popular - a more casual overall look vs. the "hard leather" look of the 1970s. "Soft-sided totes are very big in the professional world now," she says.

This sentiment is echoed by fellow promotional consultant Doug Langer - "[People] really just want something that is one big compartment that they can dump their stuff into, and that basically describes the tote bag. That s really what people have gone to ... They don t use briefcases anymore."

Aiming to Please
When should you consider tote bags for a promotion? "When [the] application is for a broad based audience with multiple age groups, genders and interests, totes are universal," offers promotional consultant Michael Bernstein.

Whether you're going to use tote bags for a national convention or a local baseball team, you can likely find one to meet your needs, whether that's color, size, budget, etc. They can often stand on their own, or fill in the "gaps" of nearly any promotion.

COPYRIGHT © 1999 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Matt Histand is assistant editor of IMPRINT

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