Promotional Products: Overlooked Effective Brand Building Strategy?

Short-terminism and declining budgets continue challenging the viability to invest in brand building. In all honesty, we as an industry are not helping marketers win the battle.

Current brand-building theory demands a minimum 60:40 budget split towards brand building activities and shows the best channels to use are the highest reaching (insert, most expensive, like TV). So, it often becomes a conversation too hard to justify, unless a CEO or board view marketing as an investment, rather than a cost centre.

But what if there was a cost-effective, quick, scalable and measurable way to build brand love and fame? Too good to be true, right? Wrong.

Promotional products have been a popular brand building activity for many years, but the growing reach available through cost-effective social channels and online groups should make it an even more enticing option for marketing teams when considering brand-building activities.

Let’s look at why are they a great option for brand building campaigns.


    1. People hate ads and love something tangible.

It is increasingly difficult to capture and hold the attention of consumers with traditional messaging in a fragmented media landscape. The recall rate for messaging that includes promotional products is as high as 85%. The appeal of getting something back from advertising – rather than just a message – makes people take notice.

    1. People keep their promotional products and talk about them.

Promotional products offer a 100% share-of-voice regular media placement. A study in 2016 found the average promotional product is kept for 8 months. I am ashamed and proud to say that my Boonie and Beefy VB dolls from 2005 still catch my eye as they sit on my bookshelf.

    1. People love novel things in short supply.

There is an innate brain mechanism in all of us that means we are wired and motivated to explore unfamiliar options in the pursuit of gaining greater value. The scarcity heuristic also reinforces the fact we place higher value on an object that is in short supply or great demand.

So, how are brands executing successful promotional product campaigns?

    1. Small production runs.

Creating scarcity in the offer makes it appealing to consumers and reduces the total overheads and costs.

    1. Engaging influencers and ambassadors.

Gifting a select number of the promotional product to get the message out quickly in an authentic and engaging way.

    1. Competition mechanic.

Encouraging people to engage in the brand and become advocates by taking ownership of it. It also provides a fantastic opportunity to capture first-party data.

    1. Maximising the entire bought, owned and earned ecosystem.

Making the product stretch as far as possible through earned media, not just traditional paid channels.

In reality though, the most important ingredient in making a promotional product a brand-building activity is to reinforce the brand in a very distinctive and definable way.

Haagen-Dazs is a premium ice-cream made for adults. The creation of Trojan Peas! – the most boring bag of frozen peas – was the perfect anti-theft innovation to help the 41% of Australian’s who hide their treats from others in the family.

Dolmio is all about family meals. The Pepper Hacker was created to shut down Wi-Fi devices so families could enjoy family meals together again. It was so successful as a single idea 3,500 were created and drove discussion about the importance of family mealtime.

I loth describing the following example as a promotional product. It was so much more to the brand, society, and culture, but to reinforce their mission to create a world where anyone can belong, Airbnb asked Australians to commit to wearing a broken ring until same-sex marriage was recognised in Australia. The rings were free, and Airbnb even paid for postage across the country.

The humble product promotion really can be so much more than a promotion. It can and should be a tactic for marketers shackled by small budgets and short-term success metrics to deliver on both in a way that can build a brand. So, in your next morning meeting pull out your promotional Vegeknife and see what people say – you will be surprised how successful promotional products really are at creating discussion!