Written by Brienna McWade
Brand Designer + Creative Director
Everyone love swag. It's fun to design, fun to give, fun to receive... but not all swag is created equal. Saving your marketing department budget for something with impact and intention will make a greater long-lasting brand impression than a poorly conceived, mass-produced handout.
Here are the top 4 commonly purchased swag items that we believe miss the mark!
1. BAD PENS
Let’s face it, pens are personal. We all have that favorite “one.” Mine is a Black G-2 in 0.38. (I almost forget how to spell with anything else.) That makes a lot of competition for using a different pen, regardless of how much I like the brand or company.
If your brand or company is opting for a branded pen, go with a trusted source and test the product before a major purchase.
Remember, there’s a broad range of writing tools available to a society using them less and less. With so much less need for a pen, people want a good one. Gimmicky pens don’t make it to someone’s desk.
CONSIDER INSTEAD: How can you think outside the box with this? What is the impact goal of your audience having your pen? What can you do instead? If your clients use whiteboards a lot, a branded whiteboard marker could be a well spent tool. Another option is a branded highlighter - which is likely to get much longer use and visibility.
If the goal of your brand swag is to be seen and shared, you don’t want to pay to have it end up lost in a drawer or worse, tossed in the garbage. Instead of fighting for attention, provide a solution to your audiences need. What other tools do they need? Consider unique branded items such as shovels for garden brands or products, or glass cleaning cloths for cellphones and glasses to stay seen on the regular.
2. CONFUSING BAR WEAR:
Sticking with your brand message is vital but so is telling it to the right target demographic. I recently got a cheap and common branded beer-bottle opener keychain from a very well-funded and globally successful medicinal cannabis company touting the virtues of (expensive) natural medicine. This felt like a very mixed message... which led me to question and doubt the company’s values and message: Do cannabis and beer go hand and hand? When do I open beer bottles with my keychain? Does this cannabis company have a connection with InBev? Why do I want to bring home a cheap bottle-opener? Does this company think I drink a lot? Hard pass, thank you.
Probably not the first impression the company was aiming for. Or, it’s possible that I’m not the target audience so something is amiss where this company is spending money on someone, me, for nothing. If anything, they’ve turned me off. That can get really expensive.
It’s worth knowing that there’s a world of psychology in branding and marketing — what you are putting in the hands of your audience sets a tone and makes an impression about what your brand and company are.
Be intentional about how you want your company to be considered; what is your company saying with its branded giveaway? Be creative and choose thoughtfully for maximum impact and staying power.
CONSIDER INSTEAD: The goal is for your giveaway to produce a return - what is that return for you? Is it awareness? Is it an Instagram moment? Is it to be shared with others? Are you sending a social message? Knowing the answers to these questions will help simplify the selection process in choosing your branded swag and save you money in the process!
For company’s or products with a focus on health and wellness, I’d steer toward items that echo that same message. (To be fair, the company who gave the beer opener also gave sunscreen, lip balm, a koozie, a golf hat, a water bottle, and some cellphone accessories. Which is even more confusing and introduces the matter about overspending... selective, quality items over a random quantity of items will have lasting staying power and save your marketing budget.)
3. GENERIC CLOTHING
Clothing is tricky and you’re asking to dress your audience. When was the last time you let someone dress you? (I think I was 6.) In my opinion, go for fashion or don’t go at all. No one should be buying 10,000 basic 100% cotton, one-size-fits-America T-shirt’s. This common promotional, with its selective fit and rapid shrink-technology, so often falls straight into giveaway piles and there’s enough of them on our planet to last our lifetimes.
The thing with apparel shouldn’t be about a massive distribution as much as it should be about selective offering.
If opting for apparel, expect to spend significantly for well-made wholesale brands offering flattering cuts and fabric blends. There are some really great options out there in recycled and organic fibers which are worth the cost of your brand message.
CONSIDER INSTEAD: A recipient of your well-crafted, pre-shrunk, cotton/poly, 3-color printed branded hoodie (which is probably costing your company $25-40 each) should be the one who wears this type of attire to begin with. Or saved for outfitting your team and promoting brand loyalty from within.
Consider who your audience is and select the items with intention. If your brand has a large female audience choose sizes, cuts, and designs specifically for women. Will your promotional attire be better for children or adults? Should you consider something for a skateboarder as much as for a golfer.
Thinking outside the box on apparel can also add a fun twist to your brand marketing. Instead of common golf hats, consider beanies! Instead of generic T-shirt’s, consider socks!
4. PLASTIC DRINK WARE
We’re making too much plastic-anything, so wherever we can cut back, the better. I know it’s a cheap option but again, what is the message and intent? You want people to drink large volumes of liquid with you in mind? You want to add more plastic to the planet?
I admit, I have a couple myself. Our Dodgers cups are for “just in case we need em” (why we would, I don’t know) and my ASU-branded super cup is the official dog-bath cup. I get that they’re hard to toss out because 1) they don’t break down and 2) they really do have some great uses but... you can really only ever have a couple. (I know my friend at Composed Living is going to cringe reading this!)
Colleges, theme parks, gas stations, and sport stadiums seem to be the last to keep this trend alive but the “free souvenir cups” are overflowing the thrift stores. And let’s be real - the cups are also ugly! They get scratched, faded, the paint wears off, some retain stains and smell - blech!
Just say no to plastic drink wear. There are 101 better-for-everyone swag items to spend your marketing dollars on.
CONSIDER INSTEAD: Say, for whatever reason, you’re set on drink ware, this is a great opportunity to consider set and scene for your branded item. Set the mood and vibe of your brand through your mug or pint glass. Your target audience can easily tell you how to proceed.
For active lifestyle brands, a well-purposed thermos could offer a unique impact on a camping trip; oh and the Insta...!
Design your drink ware for impact. How can it help tell your brand story? Mugs tell a morning story, while wine glasses may speak to the evening. When do you want your audience to remember you? A coffee company probably wouldn’t get the right message across if etching their logo on a wine glass.
For sophistication and to create talking points, don’t include brand website, Instagram, phone or address on drink ware. Let your client share the brand behind the cool logo - this reinforces brand awareness!
So there you have it. What items have worked best for your brand? What items have failed spectacularly? Share your stories with us in the comments below!