Is Custom Branded Company Swag Worth the Investment?

Many entrepreneurs—especially new ones—feel compelled to print their logo or brand name on all manner of items, from shirts to pens to robot vacuum cleaners. But are these company-branded “swag” items really worth the investment?

Promotional bags


The discussion on this point is complicated by the fact that there are several distinct applications for custom-printed items.

For example:

1. Tradeshow backdrops and giveaways

You could rely on custom-printed banners, canopies, and other backdrops for the purposes of standing out at a tradeshow (or similar event). In combination with these, many companies have giveaway items, like pens or tote bags, for booth visitors to remember them.

2. Headquarter swag

Other companies invest in custom-printed items for their headquarters, either to serve as corporate swag for new employees or as a way to make a powerful impression with other corporate leaders when they come to visit. This practice is especially common among startups.

3. Free gifts

Companies also produce custom-branded swag to include as free gifts in combination with other shipments; for example, they might include a free company mug with a purchase of $100 of other products.

Effectiveness and Cost

So how effective are these strategies, really? The best way to examine these strategies is to compare their costs to their expected return, which incorporates how they affect brand perceptions, brand awareness, and customer purchasing decisions.

In terms of cost, promotional products and other branded products are much cheaper per impression than even some forms of digital advertising. On average, ad specialties cost $0.007 per impression, while targeted mobile ads cost about $0.010 per impression. Compare that to TV ads, which cost $0.025 per impression, or newspaper ads, which cost $0.032 per impression. Assuming your brand is leaving a positive impression and is presented in a way that’s memorable, promotional swag is cheaper and more cost-effective than most other marketing and advertising mediums.

But what about life expectancy? Most people who receive promotional items like pens or calendars end up throwing them away, right? That’s not necessarily the case—the overall average length of time a promotional item is kept is eight months, with some categories of items—like mobile power banks or umbrellas—lasting well over a year.

Memorability is also very high for promotional products. According to some studies, up to 76.2 percent of consumers can remember key pieces of information from promotional products they’ve received within the last two years. On top of that, consumers are likely to use practical promotional items on a regular basis, with 91 percent of consumers having at least one promotional product in their kitchen, and 74 percent having at least one in their working area. Every time the product is used or seen, you get a free opportunity for brand exposure.

Cliff's Edge promotional product
photo credit: Mary Maule / Behance

Key Variables to Consider

Of course, these metrics aren’t universal, and can’t be counted on by themselves to afford you an effective promotional product campaign.

These key variables will influence how much value you get from your promotional products:

1. Product practicality

The more practical your item is, the more likely it will be to be used frequently, and the less likely it will be to get thrown away prematurely. For example, an umbrella or mobile power bank is more practical to most people than a pineapple slicer.

2. Product durability

Promotional products can sometimes be cheaply made, in an effort to give advertisers the lowest possible cost basis. But cheap products tend to break or decay quickly, which gives them a lower lifespan and therefore, less total value. Keep this in mind when buying items.

3. Uniqueness

Promotional pens are one of the most common types of promotional products, due to their low cost basis and universal potential. However, the very fact that they’re common means you could end up having your pen thrown into a drawer with a thousand others like yours. Uniqueness counts.

4. Target audience

Different target audiences will have different preferences and needs; what’s practical and effective for one group of people may be entirely useless to another. Study your demographic’s preferences and habits before finalizing your decisions.

5. Pricing

Shop around and buy in bulk. Most promo product pricing is based on quantity, so you’ll pay less per item by buying in bigger quantities.

6. Distribution

Your distribution matters too; handing someone an item personally, or including it as part of a gift package will make it more memorable than leaving it behind in a coffee shop.

How you use promotional products will ultimately dictate whether your use of them as a strategy is effective, but there’s plenty of potential here to tap. As long as you make the investment wisely and deliberately, you can get a higher ROI than you would with many other comparable marketing and advertising strategies.