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I Really Don’t Want to Sell this “Junk”. Do You?

The promotional products industry is under fire...again. This is becoming common, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Many TV stations have their “watchdog” type reporting segments where they reveal fraud and uncover what is perceived as being a misuse of funds. You’ve got the crooked car mechanic or the air conditioning company that recommends costly, unneeded repairs. These stories are interesting and do provide a service…but can miss the mark.

A KHOU Houston TV news report brought to my attention by PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone kicks off with this scintillating headline: State Agencies Spend Millions on Trinkets, Watchdog Calls “Junk”!

Don’t get me wrong, government agencies are experts in wasting money. But promotional products aren't the real problem, they are just an easy target to shoot at. Their value continues to be misunderstood. Too often what is missed is the effective brand messaging and lasting impression value promotional branded products offer.

I’ve mentioned in past commentaries that in addition to publishing the PPAI award-winning, I have a distributor business.

On my personal Facebook page, an interesting thread came up on the topic of promotional products. A savvy real estate broker who wanted to purchase a promo item for an upcoming expo asked a question on her page – what promotional products do you like to receive? She noted most things given aren’t kept and she wanted something people would appreciate and value.

I contributed to the thread with this:

“As a seasoned promo products professional, I would suggest you find an item, or items that carry your brand message, whatever that is. Sometimes people give stuff out, simply to give something away. The opportunity to communicate what makes you different from others is lost in a piece of swag. For example: our business has used products that illustrated our business-building message: pocket screwdrivers, stress hammers and hardhats. A measuring tape/level, with a message: Is Your Marketing Measuring Up? Let Us Take You to a New Level (that can work for many different businesses). I've got more illustrations, but I'll leave it at that. We have won national awards for effective marketing like this. Hopefully that's helpful.”

The responses were interesting. Suggestions included; pens, notepads, flash drives, iPhone chargers, key chains, refrigerator magnets, and chip clips.

I wasn’t out to sell these items to this Facebook friend but wanted to offer a different perspective. Her question and the responses were focused on the “stuff” without regard to brand messaging. That’s typical…and it’s why our industry comes under fire.

Much of what I write comes from “real world” experiences…and this commentary is no different. Several years ago, I wrote a piece entitled “I Won a Chip Clip and Invested 100K”. This was a tongue-in-cheek commentary that was inspired by a financial services company exhibiting at a local business expo. I spun a wheel and won a chip clip. Chip clips certainly have their place as a practical, cost-effective handout. However, this item really did nothing to carry this company’s brand message…and it certainly wouldn’t influence my decision to use this business for sensitive financial matters.

Items that are given away at events are a huge part of our industry and I don’t mean to degrade the value of these products.They are very effective. My point is that often we loose the impact products can have to carry the desired message. Products should be an active, integral part of an overall marketing message and too often they are just thought of as trinkets-and-trash.

This is a problem our industry faces. Promotional products should not be branded as junk and they should be recognized as proven, long-lasting, brand visibility marketing tools.

It’s not easy to change the perception that some have for our marketing medium. Wherever we can it’s important to convey that we don’t sell stuff…we provide solutions. We should all take every opportunity to remind people of that every chance we get.

© 2016 Jeff Solomon, MAS


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