Making the right impression with your promotional products

Do you want a new reusable water bottle? Sure. How about a coupon off your next purchase? Yes. What about a free USB drive?  Absolutely, I’ll take that too. Sunglasses? A koozie? A beach bag? Yes, yes, and yes. To a college student, young professional, or really anybody for that matter, we all love free stuff. And this free stuff, to those who are the ones giving it away, is part of a clever advertising strategy known as promotional products.

Companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort in deciding which items will carry their brands and best resonate with the consumer. Regarding their own business, companies must ask: What is the best item to invest in? Where will the item be distributed? What is our promotional budget? Then in regards to the consumer, companies must ask: Who is the target audience? Do we want them to use our product once or respectively? Do we want consumers to use the product publicly or privately?

Promotional Objectives

While there can be many goals of a promotional plan, usually the first and foremost is building or increasing brand recognition. And the key to doing such? Repetition. By showcasing your brand’s name, logo, or slogan, promotional items are great at repeatedly exposing consumers to your brand on a daily basis. In situations where companies are new to the market, promotions can be pivotal in not only reaching the consumer, but telling the market who they are and what they have to offer.

When thinking of an item received in the past two years, 76.2% of consumers can recall 3 key pieces of information about the advertiser or product.

Other objectives of promotional plans are: Creating interest – helping customers recognize they have a need to purchase. Provide information – when a product is so novel, information is needed to help explain what the product it. Or, when in a competing market, information can help distinguish a product from a competitor’s. Stimulate Demand – promotions can help drive customers to make an initial purchase, buy sooner, or buy more. And finally, reinforcing the brand – promotions such as regular incentives can lead to a regular and loyal customer base.

Check out the excerpt below from an infographic on harnessing the power brand recognition:

brand-recognition-infographic-halo cropped


When looking to establish or expand a customer base, your target audience should be the center of consideration. This should be a determining factor in all decisions, from what events you attend, to what promotional items you purchase. Questions you should ask yourself to help you prepare are:

  • Who will you be talking to? Administration, upper level management, consumers?
  • What are their habits? Work environment? Hobbies? Interest?
  • What items would fit into their environment?
  • What messages do you want to send to them with your item?
  • What are their demographics?
  • What communication are they receiving from this item?
  • Where are they from?
  • Where is the event located?

Answering these questions can help you pick a giveaway item that reflects your brand and attracts the target market you seek.


Looking for promotional items can sometimes be a dark hole. There are so many to options to choose from for all different prices. Use your budget as a way to narrow down your choices. This formula is a simple way to look at it.

Budget # of needed items × (y=price per unit)

$1000 ≥ 500 items × (y)                      Therefore: y ≤ $2.00 per unit

So, if you need 500 giveaway items for a year’s worth of events and you have a $1000 budget for the year. You would need to consider items that cost no more than $2.00 per unit.

In addition to this, make sure that what money you put into buying your promotional items are exceeded in the value given back, whether that be monetary or image. If you aren’t getting a ROI on your giveaways then consider whether the promotional strategy you have is working and adjust accordingly. You may ask how do you measure this? Remember when you host events to see if your website traffic, sales, or brand recognition increase during and shortly after this time.

In the process of selecting promotional items, it is often advertised that buying items in bulk will reduce cost, however, giving up quality for quantity can cost you more in the long run. First, cheap products signal to your customers that you may cut corners to save money for yourself – a damaging reputation for your audience to form when you are trying to attract new customers. Secondly, people tend to throw away cheap products – items that end up in the trash are a missed opportunity at continual exposure with the consumer who picked up your product, and to whom they would expose your brand to in their use of such product.

In her article, “The 12 Dumbest Things to do with Giveaways”, Candy Adams says, “if your attendees throw your giveaways in the garbage, you could just as easily avoid the middle man and toss the money you spent on them in the trash yourself.”

Creativity and Customization

Think twice about buying items that are overly used, such as stress balls, pens. Being creative in your promotional items will not only grab the attention of your audience, but will also ensure that your items are being used rather than tossed.

When researching creative promotions I found an article on where young entrepreneurs commented on what they thought the coolest giveaways encompassed. A reoccurring theme among the answers was establishing a unique and relevant giveaway item. John Hall shared he offered Coffee Cereal to people, a brand many were unfamiliar with. And Thursday Bram commented that instead of giving out tangible items she goes for digital downloads like an eBook.

However, you don’t have to think in big and bulky or super expensive terms to find creative promotional products. Simple items, such as hair ties with your logo on it, can be a fun and versatile giveaway. What person with longer hair doesn’t need another hair tie? However, don’t let your creativity run too wild. The item should make sense with yours and your event’s target market. Bringing hair ties to events where people aren’t likely to have long locks and use hair ties is a waste of money and your time.


Remember to keep your audience’s habits in mind as you are brainstorming potential giveaway items, what you chose to giveaway should make sense for your audience to integrate your item into their daily routine. For example, if you are a software company, giving away staplers or padfolios might not be the best options since it is most likely your audience will be working mainly from and at computers. Instead think – USB sticks, free trials of new software, stylus pens, or cloths that can be used to clean screens. If you are a gym, you may want to give away earphones printed with your logo. Not only with the consumer use such a product at minimum on a weekly basis, but every time they do wear the headphones your logo will always be in view.

Also keep in mind trends in marketing, or trends surrounding your audience, For example, millennial’s love to customize, but customizable items can get expensive. So look for a medium ground. My favorite example of this is a thank you giveaway that the Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center gave to blood donors. The giveaway was a Koozie, but not just any logo stamped insulator. To make it unique they purchased a Koozie with insulated ice packs. However, it was the design that was the best part. Going with a nautical theme for the campaign, one side was the tagline, “Life’s Roughest Storms Need Anchors” and then the anchor on the other side was the individual’s blood type. A simple and effective item in their strategy to promote giving blood and to give a personalized thanks you to the donors.


If your company is seriously thinking about considering a promotional plan, it is advised that the plan for the coming year should be enacted in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. The plan should follow a schedule that would allow targeted distribution opportunities at places and events such as: trade shows, conferences, fundraisers, a purchase or participation exchange, checkout or welcome areas, contests, holidays, and customer appreciation giveaways.

What are your favorite creative promotional items? What promotional strategies have you found that works well? Let us know in a comment below.

– Savannah Valade & Caroline Robinson

IMC Travel Guide

It is commonly cited by wanderlusters that “travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.” And after the brief stents of traveling I have had thus far in my life, I can agreeably argue the points to which traveling enriches. I can also argue that that there are plenty of people, who have grown richer from other things as well. Things such as marketing, advertising contracts, and being well spoken. This week, Caroline and I, thought we could combine both of these worlds – a post that highlights some of the best places for communication minded practitioners to visit.

United Kingdom

Guinness Storehouse – Dublin

Guinness sells over 1.8 billion glasses of beer a year. Well known for its dark appearance, hint of caramel taste, and smooth, velvet texture, Guinness has held a share of the beer market since its creation in the mid-seventeen hundreds. One can go visit the Irish beer at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. This 7-story building shows visitors how the beer is made and even teaches one how to pour the perfect pint, but the reason this highly visited tourist attraction made our list is because a whole floor of the building is dedicated to the brand’s advertising.


The ad gallery showcases many of the brand’s classic print and TV ads from the 1930s to today, as well as highlights its sponsorships role in many worldwide events. The brand truly recognizes that its ads and mascots are just as iconic as the beer itself. And after you’re finished with the tour, you can soak it all in with a 360-degree view of the city in the storehouse’s Gravity Bar on the top floor.

Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising – London

Tucked away in a small part of London called Notting Hill, the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising celebrates consumer and pop culture. Display cases are packed with objects such as vintage Heinz Cans, music artist’s memorabilia, and children’s toys. The products are usually lined up beside one another so you can see how the design has changed with the decades. This museum is a great stop before going to visit Kensington Palace and can be viewed in 30 minutes or less, as it is rather small in comparison to other London museums. Another great perk is that it is an included attraction on The London Pass.


United States

Newseum – Washington, DC

Among the historical artifacts and monuments that decorate our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. also boasts a museum not focused solely on our past events, but also our current. The Newseum is an interactive museum of news and journalism – “serving as a forum for First Amendment study, exploration, and education.” The museum is seven levels of exhibits, galleries, theaters, two broadcast studios, and an interactive newsroom. One of it’s most notable exhibits, Today’s Front Pages, catalogues the front pages of over 800 newspapers worldwide each day. The Newseum covers an encompassing range of topics such as history of how news was/is covered, the transitions of the varying mediums used, and even ethics. A definite must visit for anyone involved in broadcast fields.


Here are Newseum’s 15 Permanent Exhibits:

  • The New York Times – Ochs-Sulzberger Family Great Hall of News
  • News Corporation News History Gallery
  • NBC News Interactive Newsroom
  • 9/11 Gallery Sponsored by Comcast
  • Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery
  • Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery
  • Cox Enterprises First Amendment Gallery
  • Time Warner World News Gallery
  • Pulliam Family Great Books Gallery
  • Today’s Front Pages Gallery
  • Journalist Memorial Gallery
  • ABC News Changing Exhibits Gallery
  • Hank Greenspun Terrance on Pennsylvania Avenue
  • The Brancroft Family Ethics Center
  • HP New Media Galley

National Museum of American History – Advertising – Washington, DC

Part of the Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of American History, also resides in Washington, D.C. Preserving and displaying some of our nations most valued treasures, the museum has nearly 3 million artifacts reflecting our nation’s social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history. Among its archives, a collection devoted to advertising contains upwards of 1600 artifacts. The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana comprises thousands of trade cards, catalogs, labels, examples of packaging, advertising objects, and other business papers and images dating back to the late 1700s.

NMNH pic

The Andy Warhol Museum – Pittsburg, PA

Half art gallery and half history of Warhol’s life, the Andy Warhol Museum is a must see for IMC professionals. Known for his portraits of commercial products and celebrities, Andy Warhol was a legend and leader in commercial and pop art. The museum houses his paintings, sculptures, photographs, films, and illustrations. We believe this stop is perfect for Warhol fans of all extremities. The museum is unique from other Warhol traveling exhibits in two ways; it features rotating extensive special exhibits of his and other artist work, as well as offers visitors fun and interactive activities— such as the ability to create your own screen test— that help one see what it would have been like to be a part of Warhol’s studio.



The Acropolis – Athens, Greece

In the study of ancient history and culture, Greece has been renowned for the advancements the state itself, and its scholars have contributed to modern society. Athens, well known as the birthplace of democracy, is also the birthplace of rhetoric, “the art of discourse that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences.” As democracy rose, so did the need to be an effective public speaker. As members of the polis, all citizens had to be able to speak before and in the legislative assembly, testify in court, and take their grievances before a magistrate. Without lawyers, it was the citizen’s responsibility to be able to make a persuading plea as he represented himself and his family. Some of the most notable scholars of Ancient Greece – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero – were all men who were also sophists, teaching their pupils philosophy and rhetoric. Any writer, speaker, or listener, is aware of the contributions Aristotle made in identifying the basic elements of good speech – logos, ethos, and pathos – and Cicero in developing the five canons – invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

athens ampitheatre

Have you visited any of our travel picks? Share with us your IMC travel experiences in a comment below. Let us know if there are any more hidden travel gems for those who are communication minded. We would love to feature your recommendations in next year’s IMC Travel Guide II.

– Caroline Robinson & Savannah Valade

Photo analytics – watching your brand in the wild

Often the most important and cherished commentaries are accompanied with visuals. Take for example newspapers; a blown up photograph accompanies every front page story. Images, whether in the form of paintings, drawings, photography, or digital illustration, have power and influence the written word do not possess. Even in an electronic world, image and graphic content become increasingly more prominent.

With the invention of mobile phones equipped with camera and Internet capabilities, everyone has been made a commentator. This, combined with the ability to share image content, has helped establish a unique, constant narrative that reflects individuals and their community. It is quoted that nearly 2 billion pictures are put on social media per day, and these are the most viewed content type. (See the infographic below for research on images in media.) The popularity, and sheer mass number of images, makes it imperative for brands to explore today’s visual commentary.


Blogger Chaitanya Chunduri addresses images’ popularity in her blog post “Selfies As 24×7 Focus Groups”. In her post she highlights a study called Selfiecity. The Selfiecity project analyzed “selfies” taken in five cities around the world. It found that the proclaimed “selfie” constitutes only 3-5% of images they analyzed. The other 96% (roughly) were of other things, but what are these other things and how do we measure them? To find these answers marketers can use the same tool the Selfiecity study used— image recognition.

Although it is not a new form of technology, image recognition has greatly advanced, allowing a marketer to analyze user-generated material. With tools like Ditto— “a visual recognition engine” that allows for photo analytics— marketers no longer have to hold focus groups or distribute surveys to determine how consumers are using their products. The creator of Ditto, David Rose comments, “Through this digital ethnography, we are able to see how people are using brands’ products in the wild”. Check out the video below to see an overview of how Ditto works.

However, some are skeptical about how effectively the analytical information being collected will be used. James McQuivey, a consumer products analyst, says in response to the tool, “Sure it’s cool to get a report about the feeling that people are getting about your brand, but after one or two years of gathering this data, they will want to know how this helps them move product or get more subscribers. It is up to Ditto to push companies to be innovative with this data so that it does move the needle.”

Chunduri claims that picture analytics are not useful for companies that only want to increase market share, it is for companies “measuring their consumers’ pride and enthusiasm.” In addition to pride and enthusiasm, it can also find consumer habits that may have been unrecognizable by traditional web analytics and consumer purchase tracking. This can been seen in some of the patterns Ditto has already found, such as the fact that people will eat Chobani yogurt during their morning commute by sitting it in the car cup holder.

Picture analytical tools will not only be successful, but also become a necessary part of future marketing analytic efforts. Why? They can help a brand understand the rhetoric around a product and culture better and faster than ever before. Companies now have the ability to passively see glimpses of the role their brand and products play in the lives of the consumer, and how it differentiates throughout regions, cultures, and nationalities. This insight is very valuable and should be used to drive decisions made about the product and marketing communication efforts. For example, the information about Chobani yogurt eaters could shape product package design; how can we make our packaging more functional for those who eat yogurt in the car? However, in order for tool to work companies have to accept the information they learn and adapt their strategies. As Seth Godin advises, “Don’t measure anything unless the data helps you make a better decision or change your actions. If you’re not prepared to change your diet or your workouts, don’t get on the scale”.

So, if you are prepared to see how your product is “being” in the real world and are prepared to change your communication strategy to match or indulge those realities, then picture analytics  could be of great benefit, but tell me what you think. Have you ever used picture analytic tools? Were they helpful? How can marketers use picture analytics to its full benefit?

-Caroline R.

Nigerians prove hashtag activism effective in gaining international attention

It is undoubted, that within the past month, Africa has claimed a stake in news and media coverage. Boko Haram, Ebola, and now the US – Africa Leader’s Summit have left a buzzing trend on almost all channels. As gatekeepers latch on, it is clear that the country is in dire need of some positive public relations – however, Levick, a US Public Relations firm, hired to do just that for the country, is now in need of its own PR campaign after its attempt.

In June, Levick signed a contract with the Nigerian government to improve the news coverage of the Nigerian government’s efforts of rescuing the 276 abducted school girls who fell victim to terrorists Boko Haram on April 14. Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group, operates under its version of Sharia law, which opposes many western civilization customs, especially the education of women. To the group, a woman’s role is at home raising children and attending to their husband – not at school learning to read and write.

Kidnappings have been prevalent since May of 2013, as Boko Haram leader, Abubaker Shekau announced this tactic as part of its newest campaign. However, the most recent abduction, the girls from Chibok, sparked a solidified effort among Nigerians to bring them home safely. These voices have turned into an international online /social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Nigerian lawyer, Ibrahim Adbullahi, is credited with creating the hashtag that brought news of the plight to a worldwide audience.


Over 4 million tweets have been sent with the hashtag. Once viral, it received attention from numerous American celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres, Chris Brown, P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian, and Michelle Obama. Once the first lady shared the tweet, it became the most shared tweet on the issue, with over 57,000 retweets.

FLOTUS support

The school girls abduction, along with failed efforts to contain attacks by Boko Haram, has brought increasing pressure to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces reelection in February of 2015. It is Levick who has been hired to help with the crisis of the country and the president. According to its contract, “Levick will provide government affairs and communication counsel with the primary objective of changing the international and local media narrative on a number of issues.” These issues include:

  • The government of Nigeria’s efforts to find and safely return the girls abducted by Boko Haram in the Borno State of Nigeria.
  • Assisting the government’s efforts to mobilize international supports in fighting Boko Haram as part of the greater global war on terror.
  • Communicating President Goodluck Johathan’s past, present, and future priority to foster transparency, democracy, and the rule of law throughout Nigeria.

As the LA Times reports, so far Levick has succeeded in getting some prominent media placements for President Goodluck, but it has also succeeded in upsetting a lot of Nigerians. Backlash of Levick’s involvement reflects long held sensitivity about foreigners who think they know more about Nigeria than Nigerians.

Nigerians are not only upset about Levick’s presence, but also about the cost of their presence. The contract, signed officially between Levick and the News Agency of Nigeria is worth $1.2 million. Beginning June 16, Levick started charging at a rate of $100,000 a month for a year of services.

“We dont need some PR company from DC to tell us how our govt feels about us. we live here, you operate from DC @LEVICK enjoy your lunch fee,” read a post from @Perseverance__.

Another hashtag then errupted on the Nigerian twittersphere, this one, #someoneTellLevick, after the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, released a statement that blamed the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners for the refusal of the parents of the abducted girls to meet with the president. The statement referred to the campaigners as engaging in psychological terrorism.

Although Levick did not sign the statement, and Vice President, Phillip Elwood, was non-committal on their involvement in its writing, shortly after its release, social media was flooded with message towards the Nigerian government and Levick. According to the social media analytic site, Topsy, #someoneTellLevick was used more than 3600 times.


Nigerian columnist, Tolu Ogunlesi, writes that Levick is, “merely the latest in a long line of Western image consultants that Nigerian governments have been known to routinely engage for miracle-working purposes.” He continues, saying, “The Internet has turned many citizens into fairly powerful purveyors of opinion. By sheer force of will, ordinary Nigerians armed with mobile phones and immobile frustrations are able to powerfully … shape their country’s international narratives in a way no media or PR behemoth could possibly hope to counter.”

someonetelllevick tweets

Is it questionable how much Levick has actually done to improve Nigeria and President Goodluck’s efforts thus far. It is even more questionable if they will even be able to at all. While armed with the ability to carefully craft a statement of place an op/ed, Levick’s PR arsenal is weak when compared to the hashtag activism of the Nigerian citizens.

-Savannah Valade

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