Do Promotional Products Still Work?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Can I use promotional products to grow my business?

American companies invest $18 billion a year on promotional product marketing alone. The value of promotional products lies in their ability to carry a company’s message beyond a single customer and into the customer’s broader social circle — depending on the specific product the message can even reach beyond that circle. But do promotional products serve their intended purpose?

The short answer is yes. Most consumers still appreciate and value promotional products, even inexpensive ones like promotional marketing pens. Giving out promotional products increases the odds that the recipient will patronize your business. It’s basic psychology — people feel obligated to give something back when they receive a gift, no matter how small.

The Advertising Impact of Promotional Items

Companies love to give out promotional items because they’re a cost-effective way to advertise products and services. According to one PPAI study, 58 percent of people who receive promotional products keep them for one to four years. If a person keeps a promotional product for one year and uses it once a week, that adds up to 52 advertising impressions made on behalf of the company.

The more often a person uses his or her promotional product, the more advertising mileage the company gets out of it. And it’s not just that one customer who sees the advertisement and thinks about the company — promotional products broadcast their message to everyone who borrows the item or observes the item in use. Many products, like promotional pens, are passed from one user to the next, spreading their advertising message to more and more people as they go.

You might be tempted to think that customers glance at a promotional product once and then forget all about the message it bears. In fact, customers are more likely to remember the name of a company from which they receive a promotional product. A Georgia Southern University survey of tradeshow attendees found that 71.6 percent of those who received a promotional product later remembered the name of the company that gave out the item. Not only that, but 76.3 percent looked favorably upon the company from which they obtained promotional items.

Among members of the general public who received promotional items over the previous 12 months, 76.1 percent of those surveyed in an L.J. Market Research study remembered the company name featured on the product. Only 53.5 percent could recall the names of the advertisers they’d seen in print media during the week prior to the study. 

People like Promotional Items

If you’re concerned that your promotional products will end up in the nearest trash can, you can relax. People like promotional items — most of the time they keep them and use them.

In the L.J. Market Research survey, 33.7 percent of those who had received a promotional item in the previous year were carrying it with them at the time of the survey. Seventy-three percent of those who kept their promotional item said they used it at least once a week, and 45.2 percent said they used it at least once a day.

Fifty-five percent kept their promotional product for over a year; 22 percent said they kept theirs for at least six months. Over two-thirds said they found their promotional item useful, while about one-fifth said the item they received was attractive.

The Psychology of Promotional Items Promotional items do more than simply advertise a brand or product. They also encourage consumers to make purchases. According to a Louisiana State University study, a referral request that included a promotional gift was 500 percent more likely to receive a response than a similar request that did not contain a promotional item. The L.J. Market Research study found that promotional products had a favorable influence on purchasing decisions for at least 52 percent of those surveyed. Jerry McLaughlin, president of the promotional products manufacturer Branders, explained to the New York Times that this behavior is a matter of social conditioning. Every culture in the world teaches its members to reciprocate a gift. “If you give something, the recipient is honor bound to give something back,” McLaughlin 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.” Arizona State University professor Dr. Robert Cialdini agreed. His research into the psychology of gift-giving found that people the world over are more likely to make a purchase or give a donation if they receive a gift from the solicitor — even if the gift is of relatively little value. He acknowledged that companies “take advantage of this all the time” when they choose to give promotional items. So, are promotional products still a wise advertising investment? Of course they are! Most of your customers will appreciate and value your promotional pens and other items, especially if they’re useful and attractive. So make sure you choose a quality promotional product that your customers will cherish — no other form of advertising offers as much return on your investment.