This multi-billion dollar industry is comprised of suppliers, distributors, multiline representatives and business service providers who provide a wide range of products that can be imprinted for distribution. Almost anything can be branded with a company's name or logo and used for promotional purposes. Common items include t-shirts, caps, key chains, bumper stickers, pens, mugs or mouse pads.
Business gifts used to foster customer goodwill and retention are the most common use for promotional items. Marketers also use promotional items to facilitate trade show traffic-building, brand awareness, public relations, employee relations, events, dealer and distributor programs, new customer generation, not-for-profit programs, employee service awards, new product introductions, internal incentive programs, safety education, customer referrals, and marketing research.
Promotional items are also used in politics to promote candidates and causes, as well as a tool for non-commercial organizations, such as schools and charities as part of fund raising and awareness-raising campaigns.
Promotional Products: Their History in the US
The first known promotional products in the United States are commemorative buttons dating back to the election of George Washington in 1789. During the early 1800's there were some advertising calendars, rulers and wooden specialties, but there wasn't an organized industry for the creation and distribution of promotional items until later in the 19th century.
Jasper Meek, a printer in Coshocton, Ohio, is considered by many to be the originator of the industry when he convinced a local shoe store to supply book bags imprinted with the store name to local schools. Henry Beach, another Coshochton printer and a competitor of Meeks picked up on the idea and soon the two men were selling and printing bags for marbles, buggy whips, card cases, fans, calendars, cloth caps, aprons, and even hats for horses.
In 1904, twelve companies got together to found the first trade association for the industry. That organization is now known as Promotional Products Association International, which currently has more than 7,500 global members.
Today's Promotional Products Industry
At one time, the use of promotional products was limited to random give-aways and not as a part of an integrated marketing effort. Today, many more promotional products are distributed by businesses and organizations to target markets to generate specific and measurable results.
The industry is made up of supplier companies who manufacture or import the products, inventory them, and decorate them on demand. There are approximately 3,500 supplier companies and 30,000 distributors in the United States. Distributors buy from the supplier companies and offer the products as an integral part of the coordinated marketing programs of their clients. The industry is made up of many small and entrepreneurial individuals and companies with 95% of distributor companies selling less than $2.5 million per year.