What Is Promotional Merchandise?

Jessica Ellis

Promotional merchandise refers to brand-associated gifts given out as a form of marketing. Often, promotional merchandise bears the brand, logo, or website of the company, so that recipients of the merchandise act as walking advertisements when they wear or use the gift. There are many different types of promotional merchandise, from office supplies and t-shirts given out at trade shows and marketing events, to jewelry and designer clothing given to celebrities through swag bags and gift suites.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

One of the key elements to successful promotional merchandise is brand association. If an office supply company gives out plain free pens, customers may appreciate the gesture, but not be able to identify the pen with the company a year later. By putting brand information, like a logo, website, or company name, on gift merchandise, the item can serve as an mobile advertisement for years. As a pen is handed from person to person, or a t-shirt is worn in public, the advertising continues long after the initial promotional give-away ends.

Marketing experts suggest that one of the most important qualities for promotional merchandise is utility. Knick-knacks, lanyards, and other useless products are likely to get thrown away or shoved in a drawer fairly quickly. Usable items, such as pens, notepads, and insulated drink cups, are more likely to stay in circulation. Keeping the merchandise useful can extend its life as a marketing device.

Clothing is often used as promotional merchandise, but is usually limited to basic items. T-shirts and baseball caps are typically the most popular varieties of promotional clothing, since they are useful and inexpensive items. Fleece jackets, socks, polo shirts and even running shorts are also sometimes used for advertising purposes. In general, promotional clothing tends to be tailored more to men than to women, but many custom promotional materials companies do carry women's clothing as well.

Promotional merchandise tends to be tailored toward the target market for the business. Items such as pens and sticky pads are best suited to customers who work in the business world, since they are more likely to want and use these materials. Luxury good purveyors, such as jewelers and upscale clothing designers, often provide free products to wealthy celebrities and sports stars, since brand-association with a celebrity can lead to greater demand, as well as increased reputation for the company. Fitting the correct promotional merchandise to the event and demographic is an important part of making this form of advertising both successful and long-lasting.

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