Promotional Products and Physical Advertising – Why?

by Ken Stahl, Swift Multigraphics

Several years ago I was calling on a well-known local hotel, with a popular nightclub attached. I had already sold the manager wine glasses, etched with the establishment’s well-designed logo for the club area only a few weeks before. Surprisingly the supply had already depleted. Thinking there had been some sort of colossal accident in the back room, I asked how he had managed to go through 200 glasses in only two weekends.

His answer didn’t surprise me, but the corresponding reaction did. Apparently the glasses were so popular that they had been ‘appropriated’ by departing customers. He further related that servers had turned down frequent offers to buy the glasses. The manager was considering not reordering the logo-etched glasses due to worries over losses and uncertainty about handling informal purchases. Please permit me to digress, I will return to this story later.

“Physical Advertising”, a term first coined by the promotional product maker known as Quikey Manufacturing, refers to durable, physical product, personalized to promote a brand or concept. They are commonly known as promotional products, or “ad specialties” and have been around for years. But kudos to Quikey for creating a better phrase that more clearly related to what they actually do.

The utility of promotional products is measured, in varying degrees of precision, by two metrics:

TOMA: Top-of-Mind Awareness – When people think of you first to fulfill their product or service needs. Sally the realtor mails out a magnetized calendar every December. You see her face every day when you open the refrigerator. There is a pretty good chance Sally will get a call if you are ever thinking of selling your house. The product should be useful enough to be seen frequently, and durable enough to live through marketing horizon of the logo or image.

CPI: Cost Per Impression (or View) – Example, coffee mug with a logo – Assuming the average mug stays on someone’s desk for two years and the recipient works 246 days a year, they will see the mug 10 times a day for a total of 4,920 views. If the cost of the coffee mug is $3.00, then $3.00 divided by 4,920 = $.0006 per impression.

Marketing media channels were fairly stable from the mid-1960’s, right through the end of the 90’s. Television choices were focused, broadcast radio, still strong. Traditional options such as billboards and promotional products strengthened slightly as product imaging methods improved. But as the new millennium dawned waves of media channel fragmentation began to sweep through the broadcast/electronic sectors.

We are left with more intrusive tactics such as unsoilicited e-mail, popups and clever ways of collecting personal information. We will likely soon devise new ways to assault the senses and waste the time of potential customers. “Stop hurting me” cries the YouTube search-worthy Scott Stratten in his ground breaking Unmarketing presentation. Social media to the rescue; and it does work for many selling situations, not all.

Physical advertising has become a viable option, not as comprehensive as other options, but available to tee up your brand for support for another tactic.

Finding the perfect product is never easy, but you can start by finding ways to get into your qualified buyer’s everyday living or working environment – not their son’s toy box (unless you are selling toys). Certain brands are conducive to an even higher level of TOMA and CPI – the promo product “killer app” – where the owner of the product is motivated to wear your brand, advertising their affinity for you.

Now back to the Nightclub Manager and the ‘lost’ wineglasses. He had unwittingly found the equivalent of a “killer app”. Patrons were clearly demonstrating brand affinity through their effort to bring home the brand image. The glass would be seen off-premises by the homeowner and any served guests. Eventually the glasses were offered for sale behind the bar at a modest premium along with a few items of apparel.

To summarize – “Must-haves” for any physical advertising project: The item needs to be useful and directly relevant to the target buyer. It needs to be durable in construction and in imaging method as well as visually attractive based on principles of good design and image acuity. It shouldn’t be bought unless it is capable of paying for itself in top of mind awareness and cost per impression. Lastly be on the lookout for the killer app – a product that the customer likes so much that they might even be willing to buy it, and display it for you for free.

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