Promotional marketing offers any small business owner the chance to reach out to a large target audience at a reduced cost, but care must be taken to ensure that gifts are relevant and usable. Over the course of history, however, some companies have jumped on the promotional product bandwagon without giving a second thought to the possible ramifications of their promotions, and some of the items they offered were downright bizarre.
Sporting event giveaways by professional teams are a perfect example of an organization quickly snapping up a promotional item and marketing it towards a target demographic. Among the recent eccentric promotions were the Seattle Mariner's Franklin Gutierrez Fly Swatter Night and the Tampa Bay Ray's Arm Sleeve promotion. A fly swatter is certain not to be used too often, and an arm sleeve is not a very common fashion product. Although MLB teams are not on the same visibility scale as a small business, they still want to promote a positive image to fans, especially children. Promotional products should be applicable on a daily basis or may get thrown out or shelved.
Corporate gifts that try to offer a unique spin on a common item must be carefully scrutinized by a business owner to ensure that such items will not accidentally offend anyone. A great example of this is the custom flip-flop with a bottle opener on the bottom. Flip-flops are a cost-effective way to market a brand image during the summer, and obviously the person responsible for this innovation had good intentions in mind.
Promotional products like personalized pocket knives already offer multiple functions and are a great tool, so why not upgrade flip-flops to multi-tools by including a bottle opener? Great idea, except the bottle opener is on the bottom of the shoe, where it is exposed to unsanitary conditions on the ground. While many people might still use the bottle opener, it is important to realize that some might be turned off by the idea of putting the bottom of a shoe on something they are drinking. A promotional product must be able to be used without doubt to avoid the expenses associated with a recall.
Also, any message placed on a promotional product must be sure to follow good promotional marketing practices. For example, in 1998 an elementary school in New York received pencils that sported the message "Too Cool To Do Drugs." Again, the promotional items were a great idea to promote a positive lifestyle to children. But unfortunately, the fact was missed that when the pencils were sharpened, the words would spell out "Cool To Do Drugs" and eventually "Do Drugs." The pencils were immediately recalled and altered, but the situation could have been avoided with better scrutiny. When a small business places any sort of message on a promotional product, not only must the statement be politically correct, but it should be permanent.
While the gaffs mentioned above are extreme examples of such mistakes, businesses would do well to learn from them. A general rule to follow in promotional marketing is the more normal, the better. Personalized pens will be used every day, and can be customized in bright colors to make them stand out. It is also advisable to avoid sensitive issues like crime, politics and war. Unless there is a specific reason, a small business should focus on neutral subjects like healthy living and be as unique as possible without crossing the line into absurdity.