The Promotional Products Industry Must EARN The Right To Be Considered A Value-Added Advertising Medium

 Jennifer Roney is marketing manager at Accolade Promotion Group (APG), where she also writes for the APG Blog  


The promotional products industry, from both the supplier and distributor sides, hangs its hat on the fact that the low cost-per-impression and relatively high brand recall rate of decorated merchandise make our advertising medium worthy of the investment of valuable marketing dollars.

The best source for this information? The ASI Global Impressions Study—not surprisingly, an industry study. Although it is common (and arguably necessary) for industry organizations to produce studies that underline their own importance and value, I would argue this study raises two fundamental questions:

1.    What value do these statistics truly have? 

A low cost per impression, for example, essentially means that products with logos are either seen once by multiple people or they are seen multiple times by the recipient and his or her daily circle. Do those who were not the direct recipient know the brand? Not necessarily. Does an impression equate to an increase in sales or even a favourable brand impression? Not necessarily. What about brand recall? The 2012 study indicates that 87% of promotional merchandise recipients can recall the advertiser that gave them the product. Well, quite frankly, so what? Nowadays it isn’t enough for brands simply to be recalled. The power of direct relationships is driving brands to be connected to their consumers and engaging with them in a whole new way. The advertising world is changing, and metrics that measure our success need to change with it.

2.    How often is branded merchandise recognized by independent marketing and communications specialists as a value-added medium?

It is rare, at best. Why? Likely because few distributors execute promotions at a level that would earn this type of recognition. Additionally, there is the impression that our industry merely supplies “trinkets and trash”—a long-time, pre-conceived notion that has, in fact, been perpetuated by the actions of a majority of industry distributors.

In a world where advertising is becoming increasingly focused not only on value-added content but also on leveraging the vast amounts of data available for marketers to execute targeted campaigns, it is going to become increasingly difficult for distributors to sell the value of promotional products. Print advertising, anyone?

The truth is the industry has to earn the right to be considered a value-added advertising medium. How many traditional advertising agencies would be able to develop an ad campaign without developing key objectives to be accomplished and understanding the core values of the brand? Why should distributors, charged with bringing their clients’ brands to life (and actively touting their capabilities to do so), not hold themselves to the same standards?

At APG, we are trusted by both well-known B2C and B2B brands to source, design and fulfill their branded solutions. Within our client base, there is a decided split: a relatively significant portion of our clients would tell you that their merchandise matters, yet the rest appear to be “checking a box” on the proverbial list of things that should go into a marketing campaign. This, to me, indicates that our industry, and the distributors in it, has failed to step up and prove the worth of branded merchandise. Repeating statistics gleaned from the ASI Global Impressions Study or any other piece of industry research is no longer enough.

Do promotional products have a place in the advertising world both now and in the future? In my mind, the answer is “absolutely!” Branded merchandise—when done right—can create real connections for any brand. The products we provide supplement key marketing and communication objectives and should not be overlooked or dismissed.

If a client’s marketing dollars are moving online, promotional products can drive eyes there. If there are B2C brand that can generate revenue from the sale of branded merchandise, our industry can help. If a company is launching a new product that is slated to change the game, it is going to want to touch consumers in every way possible—and consumers will demand a piece of the action (enter promotional merchandise). In every way conceivable, promotional products are a key component of the brand experience.

So where does that leave us? With the need for the industry to up its game. With regards to distributors, in my mind it is their responsibility to:

  • Think like marketers and design promotions that will effectively support a brand’s communication objectives. This means distributors must do more than simply know their client’s brand standards. The first thing that must be done is listen: learn about your client’s brand strategy, the target audience and the desired outcome of the company’s communication objectives.
  • Understand that it is ALWAYS about more than the product. To the client, it is about the promotion, the product launch, the event. It’s about increasing employee engagement or maintaining safety records. Essentially, it is all about driving a desired behaviour or result.
  • Understand the drivers of consumer behaviour and current consumer trends, and help clients understand how they can apply these drivers and trends in the development of successful promotions. Marketing is driven by consumer behaviour; it is no longer the other way around.
  • Never stop thinking about the end user. It is our responsibility to marry the want of the end users with the needs of our clients.

The world of advertising is changing at an ever-increasing rate. Promotional merchandise has its place in the mix, so long as the industry can adapt to the emerging and changing needs of the clients and the end users.