The most commonly owned promo products are writing instruments, shirts, calendars, and bags.
I didn’t have to look very far to find examples for this column. My desk is covered with them. Can you say ubiquitous? There are two pens—one from a telecommunications company, the other a gift from the local college—a pin from ASPT, a sticker from SGIA, a dispenser from a private investigator, some guitar picks. There’s my coffee in a mug from Theime. I have a whole wall covered with metal and plastic beer signs and a shelf stuffed with Canucks paraphernalia. What are these screen-printed things? Promo products!
ASI’s Website says that promotional products, make up a nearly $18 billion per year industry and are used by every business in North America, as well as schools, organizations, and governments. Why? Items like mugs, pens, stickers, and T-shirts are memorable, usable, and provide a better cost-per-impression for advertisers than most major marketing efforts.
Early graphic and industrial screenprinting grew out of the pennant industry, which sprang up in the 1890s providing a mobile North American public a collectible array of colorful promotional items touting colleges, sports teams, special events, and tourism destinations. More than 100 years later, the promo industry is still going strong worldwide and still using screenprinting, pad printing, digital printing, laser engraving, subdye transfers, and hot stamping to mark an array of items.
According to ASI surveys, the most commonly owned promotional products among U.S. respondents are writing instruments (46%), followed by shirts (38%) and calendars (24%). Bags produce the highest number of impressions in a month (more than 1,000). In our community, where many of the stores don’t give out plastic grocery bags, the switch to reusable shopping bags with logos all over them is in full force. Males are more likely than females to own shirts and caps, while females are more likely to have bags, writing instruments, and calendars.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents from Great Britain have received and kept a pen in the last 12 months. In the U.S., writing instruments are used the most often, an average of 18.2 times per month. Los Angeles has the highest average number of promo items owned, at 12.7 per person.
In the U.S., at $0.005, the average cost-per-impression (CPI) of an advertising specialty item is less than nearly any other media. According to data obtained by ASI the CPI for a national magazine ad is $0.045; for a newspaper ad, $0.029; for a prime-time TV ad, $0.018; and for a spot radio ad, $0.058. The beauty of a logoed promo product is it isn’t a one shot deal. They get used over and over, and recycled and passed along. Unlike other advertising, most promo items actually have a function, so they deliver a benefit to the customer, along with an advertising message, creating a positive brand impression.
As a screenprinter, there’s a good chance you may be already involved in this industry if you run a textile shop. If you are a graphic printer, most of the work printing advertising specialties goes to one of the ASI’s member supplier companies, who then sell to the thousands of dealers in their network. If you want to break into this supply chain, as a manufacturer or a distributor, you can contact the ASI and join up. Any printer looking to expand their product range can start selling thousands of different items immediately.
Some of my most memorable printing jobs were promotional. We were pretty good at building jigs and had a rep as the place of last resort for weird print requirements—i.e. 3D items that wouldn’t fit under or through a normal offset or flatbed screenprinting press. With no magic digital machines available, we did what screenprinters have done since the early 1900s: we put a durable image on a hard-to-print surface.
One day, I got a call from a print broker. He had some fancy Italian wine openers, and tried hot stamping them, which wouldn’t hold up to washing. Now they were stuck with thousands of openers and a client who turned out to be one of the bigger winery distributors in western Canada. We did a test to check adhesion, and our inks stuck great. Next we figured out how to jig up to hold the opener so we could print it. We had to unwrap and open each device to expose the print surface, but it all worked fine, and the wine company loved the end result. The main issue after that was matching what we needed financially to print the thing with what the customer was willing to pay. This was complicated because a price had already been set for the hot stamping, which was less than the price for screenprinting.
Negotiations brought up the idea of cash plus barter, which led to the back door of a warehouse filled with thousands of cases of some of the best wines I have ever tasted. Our wine company client was enthusiastic as he stuffed cartons with special reserve estate wines, recommending certain ones and filling our van with enough boxes of wine to keep us stocked for more than a year.
After 20 years, I still have that corkscrew. The print has survived the ravages of the junk drawer in our kitchen, and I remain loyal to their brands when I buy a bottle of wine. Score 3 out of 3 for promotional advertising!
Andy MacDougall is a screen-printing trainer and consultant based on Vancouver Island in Canada and a member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. If you have production problems you’d like to see him address in “Shop Talk,” e-mail your comments and questions to email@example.com.