PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS: The products and industry

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Promotional products are broadly defined as anything imprinted with a companys name, logo or sales message. These items traditionally included useful (pens, mugs, magnets, etc.) or decorative (plaques, pictures, etc.) articles of merchandise that are utilized in marketing and communication programs. Imprinted products that are given for free are called advertising specialties. Imprinted items given as an incentive for a specific action are known as premiums. Business gifts, awards and commemoratives are also considered promotional products.

In recent years, the use of apparel by the promotional product industry has swelled. The reasons for the jump in interest in imprinted apparel are many and likely obvious to the Made To Measure reader (the dress-down trend, plummeting apparel prices, etc).

Because promotional products can be used alone, or integrated with other media, there are virtually limitless ways to use them. Popular programs cited often by promotional product distributors are business gifts, employee relations, orientation programs, corporate communications and trade shows to generate booth traffic.

Other uses for promotional products include company stores, generating new customers or new accounts, not-for-profit fundraising, public awareness campaigns and promoting brand awareness.

More recently, many distributors have discovered the same apparel items that might be used to realize the objectives mentioned above can also be sold as uniform clothing. Once hotels, restaurants, hospitals and service stations, for example, began buying uniforms that looked identical to the apparel that promotional product distributors were selling their marketing departments as giveaways, it became an obvious growth area to the ad specialty distributor.

There are literally tens of thousands of different types and styles of promotional products. Examples of common items include pens, calendars, T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, calculators, keychains, desk accessories and bumper stickers.

Advertisers spent more than $16.5 billion in 2002 on products purchased through professional promotional products distributors.

On the positive side, promotional products marketing fits into any advertising budget, complements other media, can be directed to selected audiences and remains to repeat the advertising message each time the product is used, without extra cost per exposure. People like to receive these items. And because the items are useful and appealing they are effective as incentives and motivators. Because there are so many products available, there is a lot of flexibility in planning a successful promotion.

The downside is that on many products the imprint area is limited. Production time can range from days to as much as eight weeks depending on the product and the complexity of the imprint. And, unlike broadcast or other media where there is automatic distribution, with promotional products advertising, you must plan a distribution method.

The industry is structured similar to the vertical uniform marketplace. Supplier firms manufacture, import, convert, imprint or otherwise produce or process products offered for sale through promotional products distributors. There are more than 3,500 supplier companies in the promotional products industry. Distributors act as independent agents and sell products to their clients. There are over 18,000 distributor firms in the industry.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2003 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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