Salt & Pepper July 2016 - Best and Worst Promotional Product of All Time

NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intented to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


This month we bring a promotional products barroom topic to Salt & Pepper as PromoKitchen chefs Bill “Pepper” Petrie and Kirby “Salt” Hasseman discuss their choices for the best – and worst – promotional products of all time. Please note, we will discuss the products we like/dislike in general and not get into specific suppliers to keep this conversation professional.  

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

When it comes to debating the best and worst promotional items of all time, it’s easy to look at the current landscape and see what items are popular now, and judge these items.  But no!  We are looking at the best and worst “of all time.”  So it is with this in mind that we take on this Herculean task!

The Best

When we frame this discussion in the “best of all time” way, I think this one is easy.  If you want an item that has stood the test of time, adds value to those who receive it nearly every day, has a great imprint area to tell a story and is sought after…you have to think of the Calendar!  The calendar has been around for years and years and still is a very effective promotional tool today.  And don’t give me the “no one uses them anymore” argument, because it’s simply not true.  So despite all of the awesome advances in technology, the calendar stands the test of time.

As someone once told me, “Think of the very best thing that can happen to other media. Someone will notice it, pay attention to it, and it goes away.  That is the worst thing that can happen to a calendar!”

The Worst

This is a tougher one for me.  The fact is, in the history of the promotional industry we have had some stinkers. I would actually love to hear some of the worst from you!  But if we are looking at “worst of all time,” I will go with the Ash Tray.  The ash tray was an item that specifically assisted in the continuation of a deadly habit.  Sure, we didn’t know all of the dangers of smoking when these were more popular…but we do now!   In addition, most of the time, the customer imprint got covered with ash and soot!  

Any promo item that helps to kill us equals “bad” in my book.

Pepper – Bill Petrie

Having been in the promotional products industry for going on two decades, I have seen my fair share of merchandise. The true beauty of our industry is the sheer amount of choice one has when it comes to utilizing products to drive a marketing message. My choices for best and worst are not reflective of their viability as marketing tools, but rather my like or dislike for the actual product.

The Best

For my money, the single best promotional product is the beach towel. Is it the most exciting product in the industry? Probably not. But for sheer staying power alone, this has my vote. When was the last time anyone threw away a beach towel? The answer to that question is never. If I paid attention to where the linen closet was in my house, I know I would find beach towels that pre-date the internet. Beach towels also have a HUGE decoration area which also gives it a tremendous advantage. Over time, the cost per impression is microscopic which makes the beach towel the clear winner for best – and most effective – promotional product of all time.

The Worst

I could go after the low-hanging fruit which is the selfie stick, but I won’t. Even though I loathe the selfie stick and all that the product implies about our society. Since we are talking “all time,” my choice for the worst promotional product is cheap trade show pen – mainly for how it’s used. I’ve attended many trade shows both in and out of the promotional products industry and there are few things have less thought than a cheap writing instrument casually tossed around on a trade show table. Sure, attendees will mindlessly pick them up and drop them into their trade show bag (a far better product in that environment), but they will most likely be a casualty of the hotel trash bin before they head home. The cheap trade show pen truly is the worst product in our industry – especially when used in such an uncreative manner.