Many of you will no doubt have been the recipient of promotional products in the past such as personalised engraved pens, pencils, stationery and promotional bags. You would have been sent promotional products like these because marketing types all know that they all make great free promotional gifts, helping to boost awareness of brand names and build brand loyalty in a crowded market!
In fact, nowadays the choice of such promotional items is forever increasing. It includes such things as personalised notebooks, embroidered polo shirts with corporate logos and all kinds of personalised promotional mugs, printed balloons and keyrings. These are all to be found proudly emblazoned with company and brand names, websites addresses and contact details. The choice is increasingly bewildering today but the world of promotional products all started off, a long time ago in the land of the original marketer, the snake oil salesman, in the good old U S of A!
Where and when did it all start?
Like all great ideas, many claims have been made regarding the history of promotional marketing in the form of real-world products promoting causes or brands. Popular consensus suggests that commemorative buttons, issued around the time of the election of US President George Washington in 1789, are where it all began! Obviously this was a successful campaign because the great man was elected to power and held in great esteem by all Americans both at the time and down through the ages to today!
Cementing promotional success
Perhaps this success then helped to cement the whole idea that promotional gifts are a good thing because all sorts of promotional items started appearing afterwards such as calendars and almanacs to name a few. In those days both the creation and distribution of the items would have been a somewhat haphazard affair with lots of trial and error no doubt involved!
Staying in the USA one Jasper Meeks, who was a printer in an Ohio town called Coshocton, is thought by many to be the originator of the promotional products industry. The story goes that he had convinced a local shoe shop to supply specially produced book bags, imprinted with the shops name, which were sent out to local schools. Another local Coshocton printer and competitor of Meeks, Henry Beach, saw the idea working and between them they started to create all kinds of promotional items such as card cases, fans, aprons, marble bags, buggy whips and even horse hats for the local cowboys and girls mounts!
Into the 20th century with promotional products
By 1904 there were a fair few manufacturers of promotional items. At this point twelve of these original US manufacturers joined forces to form the very first promotional products trade association, which in nowadays known as PPAI (Promotional Products Association International). This association now has over 10,000 members across the world and represents nearly 25,000 distributors and around 5,000 manufacturers!
What about the history of promotional products in the UK?
In both the UK and Ireland the promotional merchandise industry became far more sophisticated during the Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly inspired rock and roll years of the 1950s. It is thought that during these early post-war years, consumers suddenly had more spending power and therefore became a real force to be reckoned with for advertisers! Naturally this helped to boost the existing promotions industry which saw the benefits of interest in promotional items with people having the feel-good factor of more money in their pockets!
As the swinging 60’s moved into the psychedelic 70’s, there was further growth in the industry as promotional merchandise became part of everyday lives. Businesses and corporations alike were seeing the benefit of brand recognition and so put more financial resources into this new advertising and marketing channel!
The emergence of promotional items used by small businesses
With the use of gifts featuring their own logo, many brands were built up during this period of time. By the early 1980s smaller businesses were seeing the light and thus demand grew for manufacturers and distributors to create yet more products for brand promotion. These were then included in product catalogues, which were sent out to countless small businesses allowing them to also get a piece of the action too!
This all enabled smaller companies to then market their own products and services to potential clients with promotional items bearing their own branding and logos!
Promotional marketing moves into the 90’s and beyond
Moving on to the 90’s Britain saw the rapid rise of multi-culturalism, companies became even more inventive in their marketing as ideas from right around the world joined the party. The promotion of brands, products & events was now frequently supported by matching promotional products.
As the 21st century dawned, along with the rapid adoption of the power of the internet by the population, many websites were set up to take advantage of the explosion of promotional products. Printed catalogues, though still important, started to take a back seat to Ecommerce websites showcasing vast promotional gift item ranges that any business, large or small, could order.
2010 saw research showing that, for the first time, the number of printed hard copy catalogues declined by 25%. This did not indicate any contraction of the market; rather it showed the power of the internet and the sudden predominance of Ecommerce websites selling promotional items.
How do we all use promotional products today?
Whilst a great many of us nowadays spend a vast amount of our time online working, or indeed socialising, it is reassuring to know that your favourite branded mug or personalised pen is likely sitting on your desktop right next to your computer! You may even need to transfer their data onto a personalised USB stick ready to take to a business meeting where no doubt you will come across more of the same personalised products when for instance you are offered a cup of coffee! If out and about it is quite likely that you will be carrying your tablets, laptops and smartphones around likely in a personalised case or bag! You may even have a personalised power-bank with you to charge them all with! If you are old school then you could be carrying a personalised notebook, personalised engraved pen or even corporate gift of your own to give to whoever you are meeting!
So there you have it, the whole history of the world of promotional products, in easy to digest chunks, fit for the short attention span of today’s Facebookers and Twitterers!