When Mad Men meets the internet: the continuing appeal of promotional products

Gadgets and swag

If you were glued to every single box set of Mad Men, you’ll know something about the history of advertising and the way it simultaneously appeals to nostalgia and the future, blending old and new into successful marketing campaigns. In fact the 50s, the decade in which the earliest episodes of the show was set, was something of a mecca for promotional products, with companies really embracing the benefits of promoting their brand identity with customised gifts chosen from catalogues.

While times have changed somewhat, with the internet supplanting the catalogue as the place to do business, promo products remain an effective tool in the sales process. Major exhibitions are held around the world annually, including the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas, PSI Dusseldorf and the BPMA Silverstone that set the tone for the year ahead. Peak marketing seasons around holidays and major sports events present an opportunity to gift valued customers and employees with clever merchandising material from the tried and trusted to the cutting edge. By some estimates, the industry in the US alone is worth over $20 billion.

So what makes the promotional products industry an ongoing player in marketing?

Research by the PPAI turns up a number of fascinating statistics about the impact and influence of promotional items:

Nearly 90% of customers received a promotional item in 2017

9 in 10 recall the branding

8 in 10 recall the messaging

7 in 10 recall the call to action

83% are more likely to do business with a brand that has given them a promotional product

That combination of huge reach with an unparalleled influence over decision making behaviour is what gives old style promo products a very 21st-century edge over other marketing platforms, including social media.

Building a relationship

So why are promotional products such a good fit for a wide range of businesses? Promotional items generate resonance with your customers, with 83% developing a more favourable impression of your brand after receiving an item, even something as simple as a printed pen. And if you can match up your products to your clients’ lifestyles, so much the better – take the humble water bottle for example.

Drinkware is one of the big 4 in the promo products industry, especially at the moment with so much media attention on coffee cup waste and single use drinks bottles.  There’s a good reason for the popularity of personalised mugs and water bottles despite the recent spike in interest for eco reasons. Just think about those water cooler moments – and Mad Men had more than a few episodes that generated plenty of discussion in the office the the next day – when people gather to discuss last night’s appointment viewing.

Now imagine someone using your smart customised water bottle to get a refill that sits on their desk for the rest of the day and from which they swig on the commute home. Put your logo and CTA on a water bottle and you’ll generate the lowest cost per impression of any form of marketing. And by presenting such a useful, high-quality and well designed item as a gift, you’re buying into the ability of promo to engage your customers with your brand in an overwhelmingly positive way.

The big four

The promotional products market is dominated by four categories of product: clothing (32%), writing instruments (7%), bags (7%) and drinkware (7%) – exactly the kind of promotional items that would have been around in the 1950s. So what accounts for the enduring popularity of the Big Four?

Wearables or Clothing are the king of promo merchandise. A great T-shirt, fleece or softshell will find its way into any employee’s off-duty wardrobe and of course charity fundraisers and community challenges present great opportunities to brand your contributions with ‘Team’ clothing. Design and quality are both paramount, which the industry is serving better and better with recognised designer brands allowing their garments to be co-branded and decoration methods allowing for all sorts of retail inspired accents in the decoration process.

Writing instruments might not seem like the most glamorous of promotional items, but they represent a huge RoI. A good quality printed pen is highly functional, and people tend to have one handy at all times in their bag, car, and on their desk which must be the most prized piece of marketing real estate. Pens also have a habit of changing hands often, increasing their reach and the number of impressions they generate.

We’ve mentioned the sheer usefulness and longevity of a well-designed and decorated water bottle, and you can apply the quality/utility/fun mantra to insulated coffee cups and quirky mugs. Bags, on the other hand, are another universally welcome item that can be toted far and wide – when shopping, at the gym, or even taking the kid’s equipment to an after school club. A well designed bag is also unisex, which is a consideration when it comes to your promotional swag budget. Finally, never forget the environmentally aware dimension of a good quality promotional product – a reusable shopping bag, for example, is a really useful piece of merchandise in an age when we’re all aware of the harm that plastic can do. And by choosing promotional items that use environmentally aware and recycled materials you’ll promote a positive ‘green’ impression of your company.

Up and coming

We’ll admit that tech gadgets have been around for long enough to be embedded as the must-have swag for Millennials, but this segment of the market is the most innovative and receptive to change. Smartphone-related accessories will continue to be a smart choice, because of their sheer ubiquity, and the USB drive is simply a modern equivalent of the business card or the logo pen. The point is that these products blend our hankering for the future with our desire for items that deliver familiar results.

Promo products that bring together quality, usability, familiarity, fun and affordability are, like Don Draper’s famous Carousel, designed to capture and engage your customers. For a low level of outlay, you can blend the old and the new for a long range and effective reach.

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