Pelland Blog

Advertising Specialties and Merchandising

July 20th, 2023

I am often asked about advertising specialties, long considered somewhat of a neglected stepchild of conventional advertising. Also known as promotional advertising, ad specialties are products that are imprinted or labelled with a company’s logo, tagline or other promotional message. The intention is to either create or expand upon brand awareness. We are all familiar with these items that we find at trade events – everything from pens to mugs and koozies to thumb drives, as well as the imprinted bags that hold our collections of loot. Sometimes referred to as swag, baubles or tchotchkes, promotional products are intended to be useful to the recipient, carrying some degree of intrinsic value that will enhance the reputation of the sponsoring company.

Sometimes the concept is well-executed and works effectively, sometimes it is a waste of money, and sometimes it can do more harm than good. I thought of this just yesterday, when my wife and I received a mailing from a major international charity to which we have made several significant donations. They sent us a really nifty pen that also opened up to a flashlight and a screwdriver, but our reaction was bewilderment at why they were spending money on expensive promotional items rather that using our contributions where they were most needed, and as we intended.

When done properly, advertising specialties can enhance your image and build brand awareness. Particularly if the item is useful enough to be retained for more than a day, it can be an ongoing reminder of your company and the services that it offers. Done poorly, the money spent can cheapen the image of your company. Proper branding is essential. Your logo and branding must be consistent with their application in your conventional advertising. Never settle for a modified version of your logo, simply because it will reduce the cost. If your logo is in full color, it is not going to be as effective in promoting your business if it is displayed in one or two standard colors, although those are sometimes your only options.

Be sure that the item(s) that you choose are appropriate for your business and the market that you are targeting. There should be some connection that will be immediately recognizable. Although lots of people think they are hilarious, you probably do not want your company’s logo on a whoopee cushion or dribble glass. In addition, a poorly made product (think of a pen that almost immediately breaks and leaks ink on the recipient’s clothing!) is not going to promote your business in a positive light. You are not going to connect with your market with a product that screams out the words “cheap” or “Made in China”.

Your goal should not be to produce an item so inexpensively that you are able to hand it out to thousands of people, most of whom have no interest in your business or the services that you offer. On the other hand, you need not try to compete with the companies that fill celebrity gift bags with expensive samples at Hollywood award ceremonies. Simply try to find one or more items that have a direct connection to your business and that will portray your business in a positive light.

There are many large suppliers of advertising specialties, including companies such as 4imprint, Vistaprint, Discount Mugs, and the Promo Products division of Staples, but there are also many small suppliers who specialize in working with your particular industry. You should probably turn to them first for their special expertise. What are the best items to order? Anything that you can sell at a profit in your store. Think about it: Your customers are willing to pay you to promote your business every time they or one of their friends sees your branding!

The easiest products to sell are wearable items such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, then any other random but useful items. Those include drinkware, toys, sporting goods, reusable shopping bags, and more. For a campground, what might be some useful promotional items that you can sell in your store? Here is an abbreviated list of items that might have a connection with camping:

  • Tire Pressure Gauges – Even though newer vehicles have tire pressure monitors, there are a lot of tires on the typical camper and tow vehicle!
  • Backpacks – It would be nice to at least encourage campers to get out and take a hike.
  • Blankets – Particularly if you have a music festival or another event where people will be sitting on lawns.
  • Coolers – Also go well with outdoor events.
  • Flashlights – Perfect for those after-dark scavenger hunts.
  • Frisbee Discs – A natural, particularly if you have a disc golf course.
  • Pedometers – Another item to encourage exercise in the outdoors.
  • Pet Products – Collapsible bowls for people taking their dogs hiking, or leashes for people who forgot to bring this required item.

On the topic of selling items in your store, do you limit purchases to what a customer can carry in their hands? If so, that is a big mistake. Shopping baskets have been proven to increase impulse buying and sales. They should be located at your store entrance, and aware employees should always ask a customer carrying three or more items, “Can I offer you a shopping basket?”

You can buy a dozen retail store shopping baskets, with a stand and sign, online for as little as $125.00. Better yet, a company called Good L Corp – – sells the only shopping baskets that are made in the USA, highly durable, and made from 100% recycled materials. They sell a dozen of their “Big Baskets” – 19.5 x 13.3 x 10.3 inches – imprinted with your four-color logo, including a stand and sign for $299.99.

If you are looking for additional merchandising ideas, talk to your screen printed or embroidered apparel supplier for their suggestions. Try to choose items that people do not already have more of than they need, and try to find items that will hold up and stand the test of time. These are the keys to keeping your business in the forefront of your customers’ minds.

This post was written by Peter Pelland