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Fun Promotional Toys and Games

Add a Dash of FUN to Your Next Promotion!
By Marge Ryan-Atkinson

With the recent infusion of young, technologically sophisticated Gen-Xers into the workplace, there's been an increased emphasis on creating a more informal on-the-job environment. "There's a big push to have fun at work," says promotional consultant Rob Schulz. "It's another way to drive creativity."

Hank Arkin, another promo guru, agrees: "Toys are really becoming a mainstream of specialty advertising."

Where The Toys Are
Toys are hot. They're found on numerous desktops, right next to the pens, mousepads and clocks. Sometimes they're kept in the drawer for when the mood hits, helping stimulate the imagination within otherwise sterile cubicles or offices. And like many other products, these days they usually have a logo on them.

Imprinted toys include the expected - balls, yo-yos, light-up sticks, paddle-balls, tops - as well as the unexpected, like musical instruments, illuminated headwear and jewelry, super-challenging puzzles, checkers/chess/backgammon and even bingo sets, and more.

Promotional counselor Pam Proctor has sold clients crystal coasters with tic-tac-toe boards, crystal checker-boards and "Lingo Bingo," boards of corporate phrases; each time one is said, it's covered with the included marker until someone gets Bingo. "We filled a huge order for a sales department that was getting ready for its general sales meeting," she says.

Revving Up Sales
Those who remember, as a kid, rolling die-cast metal Matchbox cars along the kitchen floor or racing them down a makeshift ramp might be happy to know that the cars can now be imprinted - an interesting thought, considering the NASCAR boom of the past few years. The vehicles are 1/64th scale and include cars, trucks and ambulances. The size, naturally, presents somewhat of a challenge for imprinting, so production time can run a little longer. Still, the cars have gained visibility as ad-message tools.

"Matchbox cars are popular items in company stores," says counselor Michael Raab. "College and hospital stores also sell them, imprinted with their institution's name or logo." Companies can even create their own Matchbox limited-edition series, which often become highly sought after. Raab has seen some custom cars for which clients may have paid $6 on Internet auction sites for $25 to $150.

Mini versions of classic vehicles have also found a place in the promo world. Die cast motorcycles, trucks and cars are all popular, says promotional consultant George Sotir, and, he believes, much of this involves the play element. He's sold Hummer and Volkswagen Beetle models with operational doors and pull-back rolling action. He feels the cars work well in many types of programs, such as auto-loan departments of banks, insurance companies and auto repair shops. They can also be tied in to a specific theme.

Some model cars just aren't meant for play. Rather, they're mounted on hardwood with an engraved plaque for award or recognition purposes - a different approach to the standard plaque or trophy. Examples might include a Shelby Cobra or '57 Corvette.

Far From Puzzling
Throughout history, man has attempted to overcome obstacles and find solutions to problems. But it's not only necessity that drives this; it's the exhilarating feeling that comes with figuring something out and understanding how it works.

That's one reason puzzles continue to fascinate. Two- or three-dimensional, made from materials like cardboard, wood, metal or acrylic, puzzles are popular promotional products, and can be imprinted with a variety of themed messages.

Puzzles can run the gamut from simple jigsaws to "peg-placers" to more advanced brain-teasers such as pyramids, cubes and Triax. Many are tough to put down. Desktop puzzles provide a release from high pressure at work, says counselor Ben Cheng, who has sold several office-geared puzzles, including a three-piece star and six-piece pyramid. High-tech and pharmaceutical firms like puzzles, he notes, because they become conversation pieces.

The apparent ease - then sudden challenge - are what reels in the puzzle recipient. "If it looks too difficult, people will be intimidated and not try it," Cheng warns.

While not technically puzzles, magnetic sculptures also provide distraction and stimulate conversation. "They're usually seen in a fun context, but are also seen as a frivolous and superficial activity," admits Louis Gross, promotional consultant.

Still, this dichotomy may provide exactly the proper contrast to seriousness a firm wants a promotion to have. Magnetic sculptures come in designs targeting a variety of professions and themes, including medical, legal, construction, sports shapes, rods, cubes and blocks. One psychiatrist actually wrote a paper describing his use of the sculptures as therapy.

Schulz adds that he's filled orders for wood puzzles with laser engraving, which ups the perceived value.

Varied Applications
By their very nature, puzzles can encourage dialog between giver and recipient. On the back of the "Puzzler," for example, is copy clearly spelling out the puzzle's objective. The solution, however, is obtainable only to those who call a provided number or visit a provided Web site. The item can also be mailed as a pre-show promotion to trade-show attendees with the solution available at a certain booth.

In a way, trade shows and toys seem made for each other. Counselor Eric Levin says, "We've found over the last couple of years that one of the biggest places that companies spend their promotional products budget on is trade shows. Toys are a natural booth traffic-builder, encouraging people to stay and play. Other people see people with them and ask 'Where did you get that?'"

Self-illuminated items are also good traffic-builders, offers Ron Gilley, a counselor. "People love glow. They'll line up to get it," he says.

Glow items work for other events, too. Light sticks, which are easily hot-stamped, can be used as drink stirrers or bracelets at parties, concerts and galas. Battery-operated light swords, headbands, buttons, and so on are also crowd-pleasers.

Across The Board
Something to keep in mind is that toys used in promotions should meet safety standards. "Whether or not the recipient is a child, you must use a product that meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) standards," says Arkin, adding that often, safety testing is done at a professional lab when a promotion is specifically aimed at children.

And many items do appeal to all ages. Herb Stone, promotional consultant, says "loop-the-loop" straws have found a niche among adults. Radio stations have used them shaped into their call letters and taverns use them as stirrers for drinks.

Based on the resurgence of the Hula-Hoop trend of the 1950s and early '60s, imprinted hoops, in several sizes, have seen growing popularity among colleges and trendy companies.

Small musical instruments and related items, such as logoed harmonicas and guitar picks, have also entered the picture. Curiously, says counselor Brenda Lucy, most of the companies that want to use harmonicas today are software firms.

Even true basics - sand buckets and shovels, bounce-back balls, beach balls and crazy putty - have found their way into a variety of promotions. One human resources company used the putty to recruit young, playful talent. It was packaged in a plastic egg that bore the message, "Let us shape your future."

Will toys continue to be a serious part of promotional products applications? If Levin (who's an X-er himself) is right, yes. "When you use toys," he says, "you're promoting fun."

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

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