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Just What The Heck Are Promotional Products?


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Promotional items or promotional products include useful or decorative articles of merchandise that are used in marketing and communication programs. The items are usually imprinted or decorated with a company's name, logo or message. Promotional items have a long history in the USA and elsewhere and if you would like to know more about the background of promotional items and how they are used today then read the mini-guide that follows.

The first known promotional products in the United States were commemorative buttons dating back to the election of George Washington in 1789.

During the early 1800's there were some advertising calendars, rulers and wooden specialties, but the industry didn't really organize until later that century. A printer in Coshochton, Ohio, Jasper Meeks is considered by many to be the originator of the industry when he convinced a local shoe store to supply book bags imprinted with the store name to local schools.

A competitor in the same town, Henry Beach, picked up on the idea and soon the two men were selling and printing bags for marbles, buggy whips, card cases, fans, calendars, cloth caps, aprons and even hats for horses. In 1904, twelve manufacturers of promotional items got together to found the first trade association for the budding industry.

Today’s Promotional Items

Premiums, incentives, advertising specialties, business gifts, awards and commemoratives are also considered promotional products. They are often distributed at trade shows, used in direct mail and as part of guerilla marketing campaigns and in the trade these items are also known by the slang terms “swag" and “tchotchke".

Today, many promotional products are distributed by businesses and organizations to specific target markets to generate specific and measurable results.

As in earlier days, promotional items are used in politics to promote candidates and causes. Promotional items are also used by schools and other organizations, often as a part of fund raising and awareness-raising campaigns.

Examples of promotional items include logo-branded t-shirts, caps, key-chains, bumper stickers, pens, badges, box cutters, utility knives and many other useful items.

Promotional items are widely appreciated and often requested because they appeal to all ages and affect all five senses. The use of these items is gaining popularity because they can be targeted to specific markets. The collection of certain types of promotional items has also become a popular hobby.

Promotional Products: a large industry

Sales of promotional products in 2006 were $18.8 billion dollars according to the Promotional Products Association International, a 4.25% increase over the previous years. Much of the continuing growth is attributed to the ability of this promotion technique to involve and engage the recipient through usefulness and relevancy. The industry is growing at a faster rate than newspaper or radio advertising and is larger than internet advertising ($16.8 billion), cable television ($16.9 billion), Yellow Pages advertising ($14.4 billion) and outdoor advertising ($6.8 billion).

The largest product category for promotional items are wearables which include t-shirts, golf shirts, jackets, caps, hats, footwear and the like which make up more than 30% of the total.

Other popular categories include writing instruments, calendars, desk and office accessories, bags, drinkware, utility knives or box cutters, recognition awards, leisure products, travel accessories, tools, stickers and decals, games and playing cards, automotive accessories, computer products, buttons, magnets, textiles, food gifts and time pieces.

Promotional items are used to activate several types of motivation, recognition and commemorative programs. Business gifts used to foster customer goodwill and retention are the most common use of promotional items and account for 18.5% of the total market.

Marketers also use promotional items to build trade show traffic, build brand awareness, to improve public relations and employee relations and to facilitate dealer and distributor programs. In addition promotional items play a role in campaigns for new customer generation, not-for-profit programs, employee service awards, new product introductions, internal incentive programs, safety education, customer referrals and marketing research.

Up till now, promotional products have played a big role in the both the profit-making and non profit sectors, and judging from their past and present use, we can only expect that they will continue to play an important role in business, advertising and public relations in the years ahead.

Tom Knapp is a professional journalist writing for Safecutters Inc. , the manufacturer of the Klever Kutter, one of the safest packaging cutting utility knives available. It virtually eliminates the risk of workplace injuries, while the permanently shielded blade protects packaged products. Klever Kutter has been approved by the Department of Homeland Security for safe air transport. For more information about Klever Kutter and other Safecutters products, visit


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