Why Promotional Product Marketing Works

Proponents of promotional products (many of them members of that industry) have no shortage of enthusiasm for these items, sometimes nicknamed schwag. I’m talking about little widgets bearing a company’s name: key chains, bath mats, coffee mugs, gloves, hats, flash drives, golf tees: you get the idea.

The draw of these is your brand immersing itself into the lives of potential customers, existing customers, and the families and friends of these folks. Your brand is riding a bullet train into the subconscious minds of thousands. Further, these items make your brand look assertive, hungry, willing to give out free stuff. The impression of brands that dole out schwag have been measured to be high.

Yes, we do have empirical proof that using promotional products does work. Businesses that properly integrate a promotional product into their marketing repertoire do seem to fetch increases in brand awareness, sales, and customer satisfaction. This asks the question: what is it that makes promotional product marketing successful?

Success With Promotional Products

Think back to times when someone gave you something that a) you didn’t ask for and that b) seemed insignificant at the time. Maybe it was a shopping cart in the parking lot of the grocery store (“here, do you need a cart?”) or a pen after you mentioned you didn’t have one. Maybe an acquaintance offered you a can of nuts she was given by someone and is allergic to. Did you have, in any way, some positive, perhaps warm and fuzzy feeling from the interaction? Or, to put it another way, would you be more likely to strike up some sort of conversation, interact with, think of, or perhaps offer your schwag to that person or someone who’d never made the first move?

Giving is a powerful action. Receiving is also powerful, as described above. It creates a connection and gets a relationship off on the right foot.

Useful Schwag

It’s certainly true that it’s the thought that counts and that the giving act is so paramount in promotional items. It’s true that usefulness of the item can be slightly limited in this light. Yet, usefulness is an enhancement, and was reported by consumers as the number one factor motivating them to keep an item in a 2011 survey by Promotional Products Association International.

Along these lines, theming your promotional items around your product and brand, as much as possible, isn’t a bad idea. That is, if you have a web design company, mouse pads may be better than pens, and certainly better than dog biscuits. If you sell plants, spray bottles for watering those plants may be the ideal item, since when using it, the potential customer is getting a practical benefit from something with your name on it.

In short, promotional items thank existing customers, represent your brand, and, ideally, bring in new customers. They probably won’t be a large part of your marketing budget, but if you engineer the proper cost-benefit, not investing too much but doing it intelligently enough to get results, you’ll be golden.


  1. says

    I always swore off of chatchzke to hand out at booths, fearing the Filene’s Basement closeout swag run, but your article made me reconsider.

    Are you saying, at its core, the handing out of *any* memento triggers the reciprocity effect ( and subconsciously puts the person who receives into a position of wanting to reciprocate?

    If so, how far does this extend? Blogs? Newsletters? Reductio ad absurdum?

  2. Adam Gottlieb says

    “Are you saying, at its core, the handing out of *any* memento triggers the reciprocity effect”

    Yes. That’s exactly my point. But before you head on over to Filene’s Basement :), you still need to keep a few things in mind. To maximize this effect you need to:

    • Be clear about the types of products your customers would like
    • Try to match the value of the product to the anticipated or actual level of customer commitment. What I mean here is if a customer just purchased several hundred dollars worth of products or services from your company, giving him a cheap plastic key chain as a “token of your appreciation” may actually give you the opposite effect! But, offering that same key chain to a prospective client at a trade show could work.
    • There is also an issue of timing as the study you linked to suggests. The favor happened right before the request to purchase a ticket was made. That piece of information is important. If the purchase pitch was made a day later, the effect would not have been as strong. This means, you have to figure out at the beginning what your goals are with the promotional products and then decide on things like delivery and timing. This process includes consideration about where along your sales funnel you are bringing these items in.

    You see where I’m going here? The answer is “yes.” But once you understand this principle you then need to know how to go about applying it smartly. It doesn’t matter if you are running a brick and mortar business or an online one.

  3. says

    Giving something away STARTS your potential customer relationship off on a good footing in many different situations. It makes the initial interaction between you or your company and the prospect a little easier to pull off my opinion. It also provides a talking point in a way, taking the conversation off SELLING.

    Anyway… of all the items we have ever given away, refrigerator magnets are far and away the best items. They act like a business card, but they don’t get lost like one. Time after time I see them still in my customers homes and offices. They have some high perceived value for some odd reason. I guess they are just a tad too valuable to be thrown away.

  4. Adam Gottlieb says

    Two very good points… I like how you highlighted the word “starts”. Promotional products, when delivered properly, can definitely get a customer relationship off on the right foot. But, they also can work with current customers.

    And about the magnets, I agree. I think the reason people hang on to them is because they are 1. useful, 2. people get used to seeing them on their refrigerator (it’s like they become a part of the refrigerator), and 3. unless a customer is running out of space, he or she may simply forget to throw them out. This includes even really old magnets for outdated products/services.

  5. George Thompson_Promotional Product Advertising says

    What makes promotional marketing work is planning, planning, planning. First you need to identify your target customers and then you need to find out what they like and where to approach them. A lot of businesses throw money away on worthless promotional items that give them little to no return.

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