Promotional Products: Waste of Money?

  • Mar 6, 2020

A client just called my attention to a piece published in Fast Company by Elizabeth Segran arguing that cheap promotional give-aways are destroying the planet and do little to achieve a company’s marketing goals. On the surface, this premise seems to invalidate what we do here at Reno Type. Yet I loved the article. I’ve been trying to get this point across to clients for years.

At first, the article seems to contradict itself. The author begins by admitting that she cancelled her New Yorker subscription so that she could re-subscribe to get her hands on the latest Tote-Bag gifted to new subscribers.

I did a little digging and learned that the New Yorker made half a million of these tote-bags. These bags probably cost them between $1.50 and $2.00 per. If they had only ordered 100 bags, they’d have cost $7-$10 product, so economy of scale certainly helps. A subscription to the New Yorker costs $120 a year. I’m not sure what the average tenure of subscriber is, but picking ten years as a reasonable median, the average “lifetime value” of a new subscriber is $1,200. So this two(ish) dollar investment returns $1200 in gross sales. That’s a 99.625% ROI, if my math is correct.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Now consider that every one of those 500,000 bags is circulating as a walking billboard for the New Yorker. Giving away promotional products is not a marketing practice to avoid; it is one to emulate!

The article goes on to accurately point out that most cheap promotional products are simply nuisances destined for the landfill. I agree 100%. I go out of my way to avoid accepting a useless promotional product offered to me at a trade-show or open house. Unless you are a hoarder, I bet you do too.

Promotional products are TOOLS. And like the tools you’ll find at the hardware store, they should serve a particular purpose. You buy a hammer because you have nails in need of pounding. The New Yorker bought a promotional tote-bag to gain and maintain subscriptions. If you come to me for a promotional product, I’ll ask you why you are buying it. What problem do you need to solve?

Offering a promotional item that doesn’t serve as a tool will be a waste of your money and will wind up in the garbage. Buying cheap items to give away is not a marketing strategy. It’s an irresponsible waste of time and money, and as Elizabeth Segran points out, bad for the environment.

Wondering how not to waste money on promotional items? The most important tip is to buy from a consultant rather than a distributor. Reno Type offers simple guidance for planning promotions that solves problems and helps you meet your business goals.