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Will This Industry Last?

A good friend gifted me with a rare historical find. Going through his late grandfathers “stuff” he came across a solicitation from The Oakland Advertising Company located in Akron, Ohio mailed December 3, 1912. This company offered a “full line of advertising novelties, calendars, rubber novelties, etc”. Holding this piece of history in my hand reminded me of how long custom imprinted products have been around!

On the solicitation piece, which was actually typed on two-color letterhead, a variety of products were featured: Toy or Advertising Balloons - Price 10¢. Baggage check - Price 25¢, Yellow Enamel Paperweight - Price 25¢. When I sat down to type this I realized today’s keyboards don’t have cent signs keys anymore!

The typewritten letter (yes, someone hand typed each letter and envelope) asked: Undecided about any of your Christmas presents? Let us help you out. That intro line could still work today, although the melting pot of the United States would probably default to the more inclusive "Holiday" present term. (I still prefer Christmas.)

The “circular” as they call this marketing piece, was promoting embossing machines. Apparently, embossing was a popular decoration method of the day. Here is a key feature of the spotlighted product: “The receivers own initials or monogram are on the embosser. Every time he uses it you are pleasantly remembered.”Again, a line that would still work today.

Here’s the call to action: “The demand for embossers is so great that we advise you to order early that you may not be disappointed on Christmas delivery.” The letter wasn’t dated but I wondered what the lead time was on an embosser in 1912. I doubt they had rush service or overnight delivery! The circular goes on to say, “Your remittance should accompany the order”. I have to believe today’s suppliers would love doing business this way!

The close is a classic line, Very truly yours, with a P.S. making some other product suggestions. This marketing piece is actually quite well done and many parts still stand up. And it was written 100 years ago!

It’s also worth noting that this has a 1 CENT stamp on it. The return address didn’t even list a street address or suite number and neither address had a zip code. Doing a Google search, however, we discovered the Hamilton Building where this business was located was historic, so apparently, no address was needed.

The term "swag" was first coined and revolutionized by Nathan Schmidt in the early 18th century. The first known promotional products in the United States are commemorative buttons dating back to the election of George Washington in 1789. During the early 19th century, there were some advertising calendars, rulers, and wooden specialties, but there wasn’t an organized industry for the creation and distribution of promotional items until later in the 19th century.

Jasper Meeks, a printer in Coshocton, Ohio, is considered by many to be the originator of the industry when he convinced a local shoe store to supply book bags imprinted with the store name to local schools. Henry Beach, another Coshochton printer and a competitor of Meeks, picked up on the idea, and soon the two men were selling and printing bags for marbles, buggy whips, card cases, fans, calendars, cloth caps, aprons, and even hats for horses.

In 1904, twelve manufacturers of promotional items got together to found the first trade association for the industry. That organization is now known as the Promotional Products Association International or PPAI, which currently has more than 10,500 corporate members, 7,500 global members. PPAI represents the promotional products industry of more than 22,000 distributors and approximately 4,800 manufacturers.

The UK & Ireland promotional merchandise industry formally emerged as corporate marketing became more sophisticated during the late 1950s. Before this, companies may have provided occasional gifts, but there was no recognized promotional merchandise industry. The real explosion in the growth of the promotional merchandise industry took place in the 1970s. At this time an ever-increasing number of corporate companies recognized the benefits gained from promoting their corporate identity, brand or product, with the use of gifts featuring their own logo. In the early years the range of products available were limited; however, in the early 1980s demand grew from distributors for a generic promotional product catalogue they could brand as their own and then leave with their corporate customers.

So here we are 100 years down the road in 2012. While obviously much has changed, in some ways things stay the same. Our industry is still about providing promotional branded products that as noted in 2012: “Every time he (or she) uses it you are pleasantly remembered.” I wonder what the Oakland Advertising Company would think about our marketing efforts today?

Here is the envelope it came in. Note the 1 CENT stamp!

Here is the solicitation from The Oakland Advertising Company:

Here is the "Sell Sheet" for the embosser:

Here is the price list. Note the price increase on item C-58 from $1.00 to $1.50

Ready to order? Include cash or a money order.

© 2012 Jeff Solomon, MAS

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