Do Promotional Products Work?

To go alongside this question perhaps there should be a more specific one “do promotional products still work?” or even more specifically “do promotional products still work in a digital age?”

….do you want a quick answer? Well, it is yes and no, sorry! It is a complex subject but something to consider before anything else is that every single marketing channel can be said to work and not work because it all depends on how it is implemented. Social media may well do wonders for one company but another one that insists in posting sexist jokes once a week, for example, may find it somewhat less successful. Print advertising may bring in millions for Saga Holidays but an advert the size of a postage stamp once a year in a newspaper probably won’t yield the same kind of ROI (return on investment). Whilst this statement is a little facetious it is very important to frame any discussion about marketing channels with an acknowledgement that implementation is a critical factor and often a lack of return or response is blamed on the channel when it’s the implementation that’s the issue.

So do Promotional Products work?

Well, it is a big question and one that we can now look into in more detail.

What are Promotional Products?

According to Wikipedia a promotional product is a product branded with a logo or slogan and distributed at little or no cost to the public in order to promote a brand, company, event or corporate identity.

This definition is actually very good and covers what a promotional product essentially is. Promo products, branded products, corporate branded products; there are many names! Often people not involved in marketing just use terms like freebies or swag because most people enjoy getting free things. This is certainly a point worth remembering when looking at this kind of product, we all love a freebie!

We can look at what a promotional product is in a little more detail though. A key word is tangible, this means it has to be an object and not a digital product. These tangible items can be created with the main company logo, a specific product logo, an event name or perhaps some more ethereal concept art work where a single word or slogan is referenced or even just a symbol. Certainly when looking at younger audiences a more nuanced approach can be important where you are looking for people “in the know” to enjoy it and others to ask what the logo means rather than plastering a corporate name over everything.

Ultimately a branded promotional product is something that exists but can be disposable or more permanent. It may be useful, it may be fun, it may even be somewhat pointless. But to be a promo product it must have some kind of brand identity printed on it or in someway part of the design.

How Did It All Start?

Surprisingly promotional products have been around a very long time. Some people claim ancient civilisations like the Romans gave away free product to get people to come back to their stalls but that doesn’t really count because there was no branding involved as such. No, the first recorded use of a promotional product is in 1789 in America where some badges were made for a presidential election. However, there was no real structure to the industry or…any industry at all until the late 19th century. A man called Jasper Meek from Ohio is largely credited with starting off the industry of creating promotional products. Meek managed to convince a shop to print the brand name on bags and give them to the local schools. A colleague of Meeks, Henry Beach,  then picked up on the idea and soon they were created all sorts of bags cases, fans and even branded hats for horses…apparently. So the very fact you are reading this article is really all thanks to Meek and Beach from Ohio!

So promotional products have been around for a very long time and the very fact they have must mean they have at least worked at some point. However just because something is old and used to work doesn’t mean it still does; tapes used to be the best way to listen to music after all.

Promotional Product Industry Growth and What it May Mean

It is fair to say at this point the promotional gift industry is still massive and this gives a very clear indication that these products still work. In fact, the PPAI’s estimate for the size of the industry back in 2015 was an enormous $20.81 billion and 2017 was quoted as $23.3 billion so while the industry may be old, it is clearly still growing. According to IBIS World The industry in the UK is set to expand over the next five years and reach a value of £1.1 billion which is up from a 2017 Promotional Merchandise Industry Market Report which stated the value at £966 million.

In short, the industry is growing because more businesses are choosing to use promotional products, why are they doing this? Well one answer is that it is because this kind of marketing works!

What does “work” mean in terms of marketing?

When we talk about a marketing plan or channel working most businesses will have a very different definition of success. Here are a few common ones:

Branding – For some businesses simply getting the business name out there and into peoples consciousness is the goal and a measure of success. This includes brand recall so when people do need your service they think of you first…possibly because your mug has been sitting on their desk for the last 6 months. This is very hard to measure in terms of sales or revenue but brand awareness and recall are very much an aim and ROI touch point.

Life of Product and Reach – Another way to define success is how long the chosen product stays in the market place and how far and wide it may go. While it may not be purely branding it may be something people use for years or take on holiday with them and expose the colours or logo to hundreds of other people. A definition of a promo product working may not be about phone calls it may be the fact that it stays in use for a very long time and gets seen by secondary and tertiary consumers.

Impression – Does the product make people feel good or bad? A good promotional product that is working well should leave a positive impact on people. A badly chosen one that isn’t working will annoy people or make them feel bad in some way. These days this could be to do with single use plastic for example. Seeing hundreds of branded single use cups all over the floor after an event may actually damage a brand when the cups were supposed to help improve awareness.

Measurable ROI – This is a measure of success directly related to sales and revenue. If this is the measure of whether or not a promotional product works then it may not look as positive as other channels like digital marketing. It is not to say it is any less effective but just like print advertising and radio it is hard to directly measure the response. With digital channels it is possible to attribute single purchases to tactics and campaigns. It is important to use the right measures of success for the right channels as choosing the wrong one can give a false impression of failure to a channel that has a lot of positive effects.

Measureable Data About Promotional Products

So we have looked at what a promotional product is, where it all started, the continual growth of the industry and some measures of success. The last section highlighted that the positive effects of branded gifts like this are not always measurable. However, there are lots of different stats out there gained from questionnaires and surveys that give us a strong indication of how effective “Swag” can really be! Disclaimer…a lot of this data appears on multiple websites with no citation or source but much of it comes from companies doing their own surveys and using larger research by organisations like the PPAI and the BPMA as well as some research done by Marketing Sherpa.

  • 79% of people who receive a branded gift will research the brand
  • 30% people own a promotional bag
  • 60% people who receive a promotional gift will keep it for up to 2 years
  • If the person who gets the promotional item does not need it 63% of people will pass it on to someone else
  • 80% people claim to own at least 1 promotional product of some kind
  • 6% of people who get a promo gift claim to remember the name of the company or product
  • 90% of people claim to remember the branding on a product they received and used.
  • 80% of people claim to remember the message on a product they received and used.
  • 70% of people claim to remember a call to action on a product they received and used

There is no doubt these are all great stats and certainly make for a very strong yes to the question “do promotional products work?”

So, if Promotional Products Work, Which Ones Should I Choose?

There is an enormous range of products on the market that you can have your logo or message printed on and for some businesses the choice is almost too much. When trying to choose the right products for your business or event it is useful to think of some of the success measures mentioned earlier. Consider the impression the product will give in any given environment. For example, giving away branded hot drink mugs at an event with lots of younger teenagers may not work very well in terms of regular use or give the right impression.

Some of the most popular promotional products are:



This is a big section to consider. The enormous rise in reusable water bottles has fed into this product group being very popular. Metal or long lasting re-usable drinks containers with branding on work very well for most groups. Mugs and take away coffee cups also work very well. There is also a big growth in craft beer and gin drinking and both of these warrant special glassware that can be branded and used in the home.



There is no doubt the mighty tote bag is a mega popular item. No matter what event if the tote bag design looks good people will flock to them and will use them for work, shopping, the beach and more. Tote bags are a great way to get your brand out there in a big way because they get seen by so many more people than just the recipient. But there are so many other bags too! Ruck sacks, lunch bags, cooler bags and more. Bags are popular, useful, they give a positive impression and they get seen by lots of people!



These may be a very traditional promotional product but they still work. Even though most people use a computer they still have a pen on the desk and a nice pen with a nice click action can become a firm work favourite. The same goes for notepads, against the computer trend note pads are perfect for meetings and get used a lot. Never underestimate the simple options and pens are just that. It is worth remembering that low quality pens do not create the same impression or last as long so think carefully about pen choice.


USB Drives and Power Banks

Firmly back in the digital age these kinds of accessories are a really successful option. Flash drives, USB drives or Memory sticks…whatever you call them, are very useful. They are small so don’t offer lots of room but can come in a multitude of shapes and colours to match your branding. Power banks are a little more expensive but with mobile use increasing year on year having a mobile charger is a big deal. They are great for festivals, camping or long days on the go with a lot of calls and e mails to make. A branded power bank is VERY useful and can have a long and very positive life.


Sports Wear

A less common option for this group of promotional products often falls into the “perceived quality” category as people seem to really like getting sports kit to use. Branded golf shirts, gloves and more work very well. But also thing like running gear, cycling jerseys and workout clothing can all work very well. They are super useful, very positive, they leave lots of room for branding and can be used for years and often in front and with other people who will see the message.



This is a very broad group but as a whole anything that is sustainable, that helps people create less waste or is biodegradable will work well. When it comes to how they make people feel eco promotional products are right at the top. There is no guilt about grabbing some freebies if you know they are not harming the environment and they also send a strong message about the brand printed on the product.

The big points here about making this type of promotional activity working are

  • Quality
  • Usefulness
  • The number of people who see it
  • Useful life
  • The impression is creates

Do Promotional Products Work?

Yes they do, there is no doubt about it. The evidence all points to branded gifts as being a very important marketing channel and one all businesses should be considering. The industry is growing, the data clearly shows people enjoy swag and respond to it and with a continual stream of new ideas and products it is never an out of date medium.

However, this positive YES! Does come with some warnings! As with all marketing channels if you do not implement them correctly, do your research, understand your market and budget properly they will fail. Promotional product marketing is a powerful tool, make sure you choose quality products, you know who they are for, you budget for the costs and you measure the effectiveness in the right way.

Of course, if you need any help with any of this and anything else to do with branded promotional merchandise then get in touch today and our experienced team can help  you on your way to a successful campaign.


About Lyndon Holding

As lead Creative Consultant at Action Promote, Lyndon is in daily contact with our clients – providing fresh and creative merchandise ideas for their campaigns. Lyndon is a passionate believer that merchandise should be useful and practical and is constantly innovating with new products to help our clients stand out from the crowd. If you’re looking for unique merchandise ideas for your next campaign then get in touch for a no-obligation consultation today.

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