Keep Your Trinkets

The Arizona Republic recently published an article called “Cities hope little trinkets can make big impression” about city governments using promotional products and “increasingly embracing corporate America’s marketing approach: Give freebies away, and people will become familiar with your brand, even if that brand is a local government.”

They also said: “In recent years, Valley cities have significantly increased their spending on promotional items, known as trinkets in the industry.” This confuses me. The city government industry or the promotional products industry? Sure, I know all the terms some folks use: schwag, tchotchkes, trinkets and trash, freebies and such, and I know that cheap stuff can be, well, cheap. Still, I’m in the industry, and I don’t really refer to them as trinkets. Promotional product isn’t a great name, but I don’t think trinket does the job either. I’ll tell you why after the jump…

First, I do want to say one thing. I liked the article. They didn’t interview us, but that’s okay. I think it’s worth noting that governments, schools and other organizations are frequent clients for promotional products providers, and I think everyone loves reading articles about how business (and especially advertising) practices make their way to non-business organizations. It confirms our belief in the free market.Anyhow, the way I see it, a well-done promotional product is either: a) more advertising than trinket, b) too nice to be called a trinket or, c) clothing. Didn’t anyone read that promotional product spending grew by 5.1% last year, outpacing ad spending in general and hitting sales of almost $18 billion? Or, perhaps those who did don’t see how this could be true.Promotional products are a form of advertising. A custom printed plastic bag costs cents, but done right, is engaging. If it’s trash, it’s the piece of trash you save. It ain’t the material, it’s the message.We also sell corporate gifts that have been imprinted, engraved, embossed, etc. Nice stuff. On Sunday, I went to the park with a wooden cheese board that had four cheese knives hidden, James Bond-style, inside the cutting board, a cool-looking stainless-steel thermos with two built-in cups that, maybe, holds almost exactly a bottle of wine, and a cooler with built in radio that boom boxifies my iPod. That’s not a bunch of trinkets, THAT’S A PICNIC WAITING TO HAPPEN! My friend Ed told me he was sad when I left my last job because I had an unlimited supply of great candles, but even the occasional promo stuff I commandeer from the showroom totally makes up for it. Don’t even get me started on sweatshirt blankets.

A third of what we do in the trinket industry is apparel. Sure, some of the name brand stuff is too fancy for my taste, but even the other stuff is often made in the same factories as the big brands. Even if it’s just a comfy (sweatshop free American Apparel) t-shirt, it’s not really a trinket.Fascinating, I know. Seriously, though, find me someone who calls promotional products trinkets, trash or schwag who doesn’t have something in their house, car or closet with a logo on it that they like and find useful. Find me someone who can’t remember a single promotional product they saw and the brand that was printed on it. Do an inventory of the pens on your desk or count how many embroidered messenger bags you see on the way to work tomorrow. We aren’t a marginal niche industry, we’re the borg.

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