Promotional Items: An Overview

At one time or another, we have all received some sort of promotional items; pens, mugs, mouse mats, et al… It is a long and varied list but let us take a quick look back at where the concept of giving away branded items first originated and a little about their history.

The history of Promotional Advertising
We skip back to 1789 and the election of George Washington – small promotional buttons commemorating his election were handed out, but it wasn’t until the 1800’s that the benefits of promoting yourself on the likes of wooden rules and calendars started to manifest itself.

Later in 1886, a newspaper owner called Jasper Meeks, through the use of his press, advertised a shoe store on the side of school bags. This is considered to be where the concept of advertising services on items really took off.

In 1904, a handful of promotional manufacturers formed the PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) and today has more than 7,500 members throughout the world.

Promotional Products Today
Things are very different today! There are thousands of items that you can purchase and have your company branding messages printed on them.

Just to give you an idea of how large this market is, in the UK alone, research published in 2008 showed this market to be worth £850m but had seen a slight decline to £712m in 2009 when the UK’s worst recession took hold. However, signs are good that the global market for promotional items will be seeing an increase in 2010.

The 2009 research also shows us some of the most popular promotional items. These include:

  •     Business Cards
  •     Pens
  •     Bags
  •     Clothing
  •     Plastic Items
  •     USB Memory Sticks
  •     Mugs
  •     Leather Items
  •     Polyurethane folders
  •     Umbrellas
  •     Hand Sanitizer (Due to Swine Flu)
  •     Mouse Mats

Business Cards
Usually handed out at formal introductions, at a meeting for example, a business card is still considered an acceptable format in which to convey your company and personal details – even in today’s technological market! Usually printed on 350g/m2 thickness card, they are easy to carry around and will usually have your company name, your name, company address, telephone number, mobile number, e-mail address and website address. IT seems a lot to fit onto a small card, but all the same, a requirement if you attend business meetings.

So popular are business cards, that you don’t even need to have a professional printing bureau produce these for you… you can now find printing machines at service stations, just off the motorway where you can, for a few pounds, have 100 of these printed out with your information! Granted, they wont be of a professional printing standard, but more than acceptable if your printing budget is a little tight.

Promotional Pens
After business cards, pens are considered a great way to keep your name in front of your customers. After all, who gets a printed pen from someone and then throws it away? Probably none of us (until it stops working at least!), which is why they are amongst the most popular items today.

Millions of pens are printed on each year and with a huge range in pricing ranging from as little as £0.06p to £0.15 each – and anywhere in-between!

The thought process behind printing on pens is that, even these days, we still have a need to scribble notes as we potter along through our day. What you will then do is pick up this branded item each time there is a need to write something – it is a perfect way to keep your name in front of your customers, and what generally amounts to an in-expensive branding exercise.

However, for branding to work on a large scale, you might need to have given something in the region of half a million pens away during the course of a year. If you work this out, even at £0.06p each, that is still £30,000 – quite a substantial amount and more than many smaller companies can afford.

Remember that this is just an outgoing and one that is hard to measure what your return on investment is (ROI). If it is done for branding, then it is an intangible benefit and as such, one cannot say with any degree of certainty, what business might have come as a result of it.

Mouse Mats
Our working and home lives always involve us sitting at a PC at some point during the day. This is why mouse mats have been become another very popular promotional product. Especially as there is so much more room with which to get your message across!

With technology today, we even see these in many varying shapes and sizes with, for example, a driving courier company using a truck shaped mat or an IT services company favouring one in the shape of a mouse.

However, the cost to produce mouse mats is much higher than that of a basic pen. In quantity, you can start at around £0.30p per mat. If, for example, we take the same scenario of wanting to hand out promotional items to 500,000 people over the course of a year, then this cost spirals up to £150,000. At this level of spend, you need to be a large company who is able to write off a certain amount of marketing budget to branding and exposure.

If you wanted to go for a shaped mouse mat, use more colours or have a higher quality one, then these costs can increase up to £1.50 per mat and more. If you were to spend £1.50 per mat, expect a bill of around £750,000. But as we all know, there are many large organisations whose marketing budgets exceed this by many times in just a month, let alone a year!

USB Memory Sticks
Not too many years ago, mass producing memory for items such as computer memory, memory cards and memory sticks, was still quite expensive. A 1Gb Memory stick was still costing in the region of £15-£25. However, through new production techniques, these costs have dropped significantly to the point where you can now buy your own branded memory sticks, in quantity, for just a few pounds each.

But is this something that people would use? The answer is in your target audience. If you are a plumber, for example, it is unlikely that your average customer would have much use for a memory stick at home. However, if you work in one of the many technology sectors, then this might be something a customer uses on a daily as they copy their work onto it and can take it securely from place to place.

There is no doubt that the internet alone cannot fulfill every marketing requirement that we have, even today. There is still a huge market for promotional items and with production techniques driving these costs down all the time, expect more and more companies to start taking this up as a viable marketing strategy. Billions of promotional products will have been produced over the years – expect this trend to continue and flourish.