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 FreePromoTips.com, 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 and 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


Nice FB post

You nailed it with your FB post. People do just want to give out stuff, just to give out stuff. Many distributors miss the opportunity to provide the RIGHT stuff.

KHOU story

Notice the union spokesman wearing a button! KHOU (I'll bet) along with hundreds of other TV and radio stations supply "trinkets and treasures", sometimes co-branded with another of their advertisers or sports teams. Also, many stations have their own logoed apparel. Keep in mind, commercial TV and radio station revenue comes from ADVERTISING!

Lou Goutman, Advertising Alternatives 248-363-8994

Thoughts on Article

Good points though I do see a heck of a lot of waste in government. On the other hand I suspect when a US dignitary visits a different nation they should have a branded high end pen to give to their counterparts as a meaningful gift were talking the $150.00 and above type pen. Gifts of this type are expected in various countries and have been the way of things for centuries.

Same with local government gathering where they go to an out of state conference - these officials want something they can leave with other officials they met at conference its part of relationship building and keeps doors open so when they have to call them for advice or a need they are warmly welcomed not shunned.

Second part as to Facebook person - Most times people want something to hand out and they only have a min budget say of $500.00 so they look for what fits budget not what fits the message. Hence we are not selling our marketing abilities we end up selling stuff and the real money is selling strategy in addition to stuff.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
3 + 17 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.