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Leisure Products: Working When You're Not

By Matt Histand

Pssssst. Can you keep a secret? When it comes to getting your message across, leisure products are all business. They may seem to be all fun and games when you're at the beach or on a picnic, but while you're having fun they're actually working hard. They go where other products can't and are so good at their job that end-users don't even notice the products working their magic.

As the story goes, back in the 1940s diabolical movie theater owners would splice images of popcorn and other assorted goodies into the coming attraction reels.

The images flashed by too quickly for anyone to notice a break in the action, but just long enough to be embedded in the unconscious mind. The result was dozens of moviegoers running for the concession stands to appease their sudden urge for a snack.

Or so the story goes...

What does this have to do with the leisure products? While most of the time they're just like any other promotional product, earning their ROI through repeated exposure, there's also another more insidious side to them. Just like flashing pictures of popcorn, leisure products infiltrate the subconscious when end-users aren't in a strictly business environment and their advertising "radar" is turned off.

It may be as they sip from an imprinted water bottle on a walk down a country road, while at the beach laying on an embroidered towel, or when simply throwing a (logoed) frisbee in the park. A person might think they're away from the glut of advertising images, but all the while they're being inundated with an imprint.

"If one were to measure part of what communication is, it's the ability to focus on the message," says Lynne Ward, national sales manager for Advantage Industries. "And if you can focus on the message with less interference and chaos around you, you're going to be much more effective in picking up the imprint message."

You Say Lei-sure, I Say Leis-ure
What a person does to relax can run the gamut from watching TV and doing crossword puzzles to bird watching and hunting (though not necessarily together). So for the sake of our page count, leisure activities and products are limited to those that occur outside and usually include the whole family - with the exception of drinking alcohol, which is not for minors! We're also avoiding the major sports - baseball, basketball, football or hockey.

So what are we left with? A lot. Everything from going to the beach to swimming, walking, camping, hiking, barbecuing, attending concerts and picnics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the majority of all Americans participate in some form of outdoor leisure activity. Most common is barbecuing, involving an amazing 66 million people, followed by going to the beach (52 million) and picnics (31 million).

And when it comes to sports, you might be surprised to find that the top pick isn't one of the "Big Four." Ranking first with over 80 million participants is walking, followed by swimming and camping, with 57 million and 50 million, respectively.

But Why Leisure? What all those big numbers add up to is a heapin' helpin' of promotional opportunities. The best thing about leisure products might be that nearly all the activities we've listed include accessories - lots of 'em. Another good thing is that most of the accessories are activity-specific. Sure, you might all be able to use a water bottle in the office, but try walking the halls with an inflatable tube wrapped around you, or eat your lunch with a two-foot long barbecue fork. These may be exaggerated examples, but you get the idea.

It's very popular in the promotional products industry to flaunt the utilitarian nature of pens, mugs and other such desk items, but with leisure products a real case can be made for just the opposite. It's great to get a pen for free, but it wouldn't kill most people to buy one. It happens all the time. Why? Because it's something that they'll use, be it at home, their car, the office or at all three.

Leisure products have a limited usefulness - but in a good way. Swimming flippers are great to wear while swimming, but at the office or walking around the house they just don't cut it. Their usefulness is limited to a specific activity, and that's why they can be so effective as an ad medium. People are more reluctant to plunk down hard-earned cash for something they might not get their money's worth for or use only occasionally. For that reason alone, leisure products make a great promotional item.

And not only do they fill the gap between need and want, but if you choose the right item, they can stir up excitement as well. If you've ever gotten a gift that you really wanted but couldn't justify buying for yourself, then you know what we're talking about. And when the product is used in place of a standard business-based product, then real magic can occur.

"I just think there's a real positive in trying to interject fun into the corporate world," says Matt Alan, vice president of sales and marketing for California Innovations. "So much of our time is spent inside the four walls that whenever we can give our employees and customers a reason to go out and enjoy leisure with family or friends, then I think it speaks very highly of the image that the end-user is trying to portray."

Beach, Barbecues And Everything Else
Each leisure category provides a plethora of products to choose from. For instance, the beach - or swimming for those not close to the shore - represents a huge number of opportunities. Its splashy and fun nature makes creating excitement easy. All kinds of promotions can be wrapped around a beach theme, from travel incentives and awards to company outings and summer sales. Perennial products include beach towels and blankets, folding chairs, beach toys, inflatables, coolers and beach balls.

R.H. Bauman & Co. created imprinted kickboards that were used as a menu at a five-star hotel, as well as giant inflatable dolphins. They've also produced swim rings for a concert on the beach and direct-mailers that included a set of goggles and copy that read, "When you're in the swim of things..." "We try to have products that will fit virtually anything you might do in the water," says Russ Bauman, president.

Leisure products also serve the landlubber well. Barbecues and picnics have almost too many products to name: coolers, barbecues, barbecue accessories, aprons, picnic kits, folding chairs, blankets, self-powered radios, wine totes - you name it. Most make great additions to a summertime promotion, whether it's a company picnic or a customer thank-you gift.

And for those who like to extend their barbecues for a few days, camping and hiking are other popular choices. Many of the same products can be used, along with compasses, lanterns, camping mugs and maybe even a mini-fridge or cooler with built-in radio.

If your clientele isn't quite so adventurous, there are products that work just as well close to home. Water bottles are always a popular item for exercise, sports and biking, especially in the summer months when keeping hydrated is essential. And can and bottle insulators are handy to have when relaxing with friends and family.

Leisure Is Serious Business
Fact: Leisure products are really not like other products. They're powerful advertising tool that have the ability to reach people at play, when they're happy, relaxed and their defenses are down. Traditional promotional products remain a popular choice, but if you're looking for an edge, something that's valued by the end-user and unsuspectingly effective, try leisure products. They'll get the job done every time.

COPYRIGHT © 2003 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Matt Histand is associate editor of The Counselor.

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