Promotional push

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Promotional merchandise is a £722 million industry, but what are the most popular and most cost effective products amongst marketers?

The Advertising Specialty Institute, the American equivalent of the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA), suggest that hand sanitiser now rivals pens as the most popular logoed item that companies are giving away to clients and employees. The product has experienced the most monumental growth; in fact, a rocketing 439 per cent increase in sales.

Gels, sprays and anti-bacterial products have transcended the promotional items market, as companies look for increasing and inventive ways to tap into the minds of concerned and highly-aware consumers.

According to the BPMA, the promotional merchandise marketplace is now estimated to be worth £722 million. It’s a large figure and one that most wouldn’t turn their nose up at, but when it was worth over £1 billion two years ago, there has to be some cause for concern.

All indications point to 2010 remaining a difficult year in the UK and Ireland, particularly as the effects of the “double dip” recession are still expected to hit. As the overall market is not experiencing growth, companies in the industry can only experience growth by increasing market share. Many companies have survived the past two years mainly by cutting, and closely managing costs. Should revenues continue to fall most companies have nothing left to “cut”, therefore any further cost cutting will have a direct effect on the businesses ability to create sales, maintain service levels or to invest in correct stocks.

Service, product and price

Research by Nexus Collections reveals that since the start of the recession, 15.8 per cent of those questioned have used promotional goods more at their events, while almost 30 per cent are using them less. Over 60 per cent of respondents found conference bags offered the most effective branding opportunity, followed by pens, notepads and badge lanyards. And when looking to purchasing promotional products, service is of greater importance to an organiser with price and product quality following close behind. Print quality and reliability of delivery are not a marketers major concern.

Robin Carlisle, managing director of Mobile Promotions, prefers to buy Champagne over pens: “Even through the difficult past two years, we have used Champagne very responsibly, as we all have worked for and deserved a ‘Champagne moment’ somewhere and sometime in our pressured lives. A select group of our clients appreciated that approach. We specialised in getting to know the three brands we use, Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Pommery, and develop from the use of the Champagne, opportunities to learn about the heritage, the brand and experience it in depth, not just drink it. It ensures those special moments are savoured so much more and it helps to relive the experience, which in turn brings back to the front of memory the client and client brand with whom we delivered the opportunity to taste and experience the Champagne.

More recently Carlisle has purchased binoculars and applied his own logo to the item, branding them with phrases such as “clear vision” and “looking long distance with clarity and purpose.

Fiddle factor

Unlike Carlisle, Stephen Richard, director of Waypoint Exhibitions, admits to buying lots of pens. He recalls his time promoting Sales Promotion Incentive North in the 90s and the use of Post-it notes, which bore messages and show dates. A pad was mailed with each pre-registration pack and when the recipients used all 20 Post-its they found a postage paid registration card at the back.

Paul Shelley, event director of Waypoint’s Incentives & Promotional Marketing – Live! Purchases more carrier bags, diaries and planners than anything else, yet finds carrier bags give effective results, as it has the ability to promote a good show identity.

Yet desktop accessories and mugs cannot be ruled out or any puzzles with the “fiddle factor”. For example, imagine receiving a puzzle oblong in the post – a jumbled cube that had to be solved so that the message can be read – who could not resist having a go.

Stop and engage

Looking back at the BPMA’s figures, a decrease in revenues can be attributed to a decline in sales. Did you continue to purchase promotional items this year, and even last?

Don Turner of agency Spinning Clock attributes the lack of incentives in the exhibition hall to two things. Tighter exhibiting budgets – giveaways are often viewed as an optional “nice to have” and some consider promotional items to lack any form of measurability of effectiveness.


“This last point is an important one,” comments Turner. |It’s relatively easy to measure how many giveaways have been handed out, but the effectiveness of a giveaway is best measured if the delegate must perform some action (such as hand over a business card, or fill in a survey) in order to receive the giveaway. This quantifiable measurement means that a value can be placed on each giveaway, enabling future budgeting decisions to be made on raw data rather than speculation.


Spinning Clock has recently activated a raft of effective giveaways such as baby thermometers, water bottles, branded apples (little stickers with the client’s logo were stuck on each apple) and USB memory sticks, which have the added advantage of saving on print costs when loaded with client literature.

He continues: “I see giveaways as a bit like fishing bait: Choosing the right bait can mean the difference between catching a lot of fish and going home empty handed.

“Giveaways do have a secondary purpose, which is to re-enforce to the exhibitor’s brand following the event, however, the main purpose of a giveaway at an exhibition should be to get people to stop and engage. The giveaway should be a hook. An icebreaker to get the conversation started.

“I think one of the mistakes that exhibitors make is not to put enough thought into what incentives will attract delegates. Pens are not very effective because the perceived value of a pen is very low. Most delegates feel comfortable grabbing a pen and carrying on walking. Likewise Champagne is perceived to be very effective, but it if you look at the vast swathe of delegates around the stand you’ll generally find quite a few who couldn’t care less about the exhibitor’s product or service!

“We’ve found is that the most effective giveaways are ones that match the brand of the exhibitor with the target delegate. For example, we recently designed branded water bottles for NHS Choices. NHS Choices is all about promoting a healthy lifestyle, hence the water bottles reflect this. People perceived the bottles to be useful and desirable, as a result they were willing to give up their time to hear what NHS Choices had to say.”

Growth areas

Promotional products have moved on leaps and bounds, so says Anthony Potter, managing director of Big Bear Clothing.

“A current great choice is branded USB keys – these work so well as people continue to use these everyday, so when branded the clients identity is on show forever, unlike the more traditional choice of calendars and pens which are seen to be disposable items. As a company we recently sent out 500 key finders, and the feedback has been very positive. This is a product that people keep and use daily so the branded company name is always on display. And a relatively new idea, which is likely to be very popular, is a biodegradable pen that houses a tree seed. When the pen is finished with, you plant it and grow a tree. We are yet to supply it but love the idea of this product and believe it will be a great talking point.

“I think a lot of businesses are still being cautious on spending. We appreciate that its still uncertain times and all areas of saving money have to be looked at. I think on this basis promotional merchandise is an area that companies look at cutting back on, totally understandable but in my opinion not the best route in most circumstances; brand awareness is key in these uncertain times, keeping a key presence in any company sector is vital to show strength of a company, and promotional incentives and branded products does this brilliantly.”