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Top 3 Most Popular Promotional Items for Marketing Your Business

Posted by on in Marketing Tips and Strategies


How does a business maximize its promotional efforts? To answer that question, I refer to a 2013 study by Advertising Specialty Institute.

The study measures what percentage of adults own various promotional items and indicates that the top 3 promotional items, in order, are:

  1. Writing Instruments (50 %)
  2. T-Shirts (44%)
  3. Bags (30%)

Top 3 Promotional Items

What the Numbers Say

Before we dive in here, I think it’s worth pointing out the chicken and egg nature of those ratings. Writing instruments are pretty cheap to make. Very cheap, actually. It’s a great way to get your name out there, and who doesn’t need a pen or a pencil from time to time? Considering that the cost of making a pen is somewhere between 30 cents and a dollar and that pen is going to be seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 times in a 6 month period, it’s hard to not put a little marketing budget behind promo pens.

So it might be that more businesses are buying and distributing more promotional writing instruments than t-shirts. Writing instruments have the lowest cost per impression, a name for the incidence of a person seeing the promotional item, and it’s hard to argue with taking that route.

Pens also have a huge advantage that lies in their size. They’re small and easily lost, but just as easily found by someone new. Pens change hands frequently and grace the presence of many a customer. That’s rarely the case with t-shirts.

It’s also hard to argue with marketing via bags, which showed the highest number of impressions during their lifetime; almost 6,000 impressions per item. Bags are cheap, too. A large order of tote bags costs less than two dollars per bag. T-shirts, it would seem, don’t stand a chance.

Pens Shirts and Bags

The Power of the Shirt

The low cost of writing instruments and bags make the popularity of t-shirts all the more astonishing. What makes t-shirts such a powerful marketing medium, sandwiched between two extremely low-cost items?

It is rare to hear someone wax emotional about a promo pen they got from a bank, or a tote bag, but people become attached to their t-shirts. A t-shirt has the potential to broadcast important information about your personality to the world. Apparel occupies a place in your world that few other promotional items equal. This is backed up by the sheer number of people who have promo t-shirts that they regularly wear, and cherish. Pens are so utilitarian that they frequently engender an emotional attachment. When pens are lost, their message is forgotten, but t-shirts are remembered.

A passion for t-shirts makes people willing to share the good word about your company when prompted by a stranger. While t-shirts don’t have the same number of impressions as other promo items, they might have a better conversion rate from impression to action. It’s hard to get numbers on this mechanism, but I’d wager that there are more communicative and active shirt wearers than pen wielders in the world.

If you want to create an army of loyal, mobile billboards, go for shirts. It’s the best way to tap into the natural inclination for people to love their shirts and spread their enthusiasm by talking you up to anybody who will listen.


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