The Surprising Power of Promotional Products
NY Times Small Business Blog
When my grandparents moved into a retirement center, I helped with the garage sale. My cousin Claire and I were joking about how best to display the odds and ends from their 60 years together when I stumbled upon a gift from the gods of high kitsch. It was a letter opener, but this was not your typical letter opener.
In the clear acrylic handle floated a mini uterus with two pills strategically placed where ovaries normally reside, alongside the drug’s name, Hormonin. This promotional product was a gift from a drug company representative to my granddad, a doctor in Laredo, Tex. I tried to imagine how this token must have been received by the taciturn Dr. Puig. “Thanks Hal, I’ll put this next to my collection of kidney stones.” Or, “Do you have that on a T-shirt in an extra large?” Highly doubtful. He probably focused on its utility and kept it right there on his desktop. Which is probably what the drug company’s marketing department was counting on.
Promotional products are, some say, the oldest form of advertising. American businesses spend $20 billion a year giving away stuff with logos, according to Jerry McLaughlin, president of Branders, one of the largest sellers of promotional products online. Which is pretty good evidence that it works. Mr. McLaughlin credits the effectiveness of promotional products to centuries old cultural norms around the rule of reciprocity. “If you give something, the recipient is honor bound to give something back,” he said. “In every language and culture, research has found there are really pejorative words for people who get and don’t give back. We humans are hard wired to respond if we get something.”