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The Case for Promotional Products

Following informative article on the topic of COST-PER-IMPRESSION was written by Dick Kern of Imprint Magazine. 

In these tough economic times, everyone's looking for the most cost-effective way to get their ad message across. If you think TV, radio and print are the sale masters of measurable media, here's convincing proof that promotional products are clearly in the mix.

Let's face it. Everyone would like to see their business's logo, their company's products, their organization's mission and message splashed across the airwaves in an award-winning, critically acclaimed TV spot during the Super Bowl, Academy Awards, NCAA Basketball Tournament or some other program with hundreds of millions of attentive viewers.  (return to Cost-per-impression page)

That would be pretty cool, right?

The reality, of course, is that most of us probably don't possess a Super Bowl-sized budget, but you still need to come up with a promotion for next month's product roll-out, trade show exhibit, direct-mail program or customer service/retention campaign that'll make you look like a marketing genius and let you hang on to your job for another six months in today's economically-challenged, "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" environment.


Consider, for a minute, the power of promotional products. You want to talk ROI? Let's look at what in the ad biz is known as "cost-per-impression," or CPI. A few head-turning examples:

  • Notepads. Recipients of a 50-sheet scratch pad will have a minimum of 50 exposures to the ad message written on it - each time they write something down, that's one impression. And if the notes are passed on, the number of exposures can double or triple. The cost-per-impression for a $1 notepad would be $1 ÷ 50 sheets, or 2¢ per impression.
  • Watches. People look at their watch an average of twice an hour. If you figure there are 16 waking hours in a normal day, they'll see whatever is imprinted on the watch face 32 times. For a basic $12 watch, the CPI for just one day is only 37¢. Spread that out across the typical 3-year warranty period, and it works out to more than 35,000 impressions, or a CPI of roughly three-hundredths of a cent.
  • Calendars. The recipient of a calendar will be exposed to the ad message on it 2-3 times a day at home, or 5-6 times a day at the office. Using 4 exposures a day as an average (and multiplying that times 365 days in a year), we get 1,460 impressions, which makes the CPI for a $3 calendar a mere 0.2¢.
  • Playing Cards. During a 1-hour game of rummy or poker, players would be exposed to the message printed on the cards more than 500 times. At a cost of $2 a deck, the CPI works out to 0.4¢.
  • Mugs. The ad message on a coffee mug will be seen as often as 10 times a day, and mugs tend to be kept for years. For a $5 mug, the CPI would be roughly 0.2¢ over a mug's two-year life span. And recipients hold the ad message in their hand and use it every day! Try getting that kind of targeted exposure with a TV spot.

Given the potential promotional products offer for pinpoint targeting and superior CPI, it's worth your while to sit down with a promotional products pro and together select some irresistible imprinted items, put together grabber graphics and copy and brainstorm a few dazzling distribution strategies. After all, these people's expertise isn't just in selecting products - they've spent years honing their packaging and delivery skills too, picking up unique and creative tips from colleagues and finding ways to spin them into promotional gold.

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The Measurement Thing

One of the perennial stumbling blocks with promotional products is that they're often relegated to a category called "unmeasured" media. Professors Marjorie Cooper and Charles Madden of Baylor University have dealt with the issue of measurement as it relates to promotional products. Here's how they see it:

For mass media such as television, radio, magazines, newspapers and billboards, the measurement of people's interest in them has to do with the size of the audience and the number of times the audience is exposed to the advertisements. These two measurements are known, respectively, as reach and frequency.

Reach is technically defined as the percent of the target audience that's exposed to the advertisement at least once in a given measurement period. Frequency is defined as the average number of times a given member of the target audience is exposed to the advertisement. Additionally, gross impressions, calculated by multiplying the number of exposures by the size of the audience, is an aggregate measure of the total number of exposures that the advertisement elicits over its lifetime. (return to Cost-per-impression page)

While these measurements may have, by their very nature, a number of faulty assumptions associated with them, they've nevertheless been embraced by the advertising community for purposes of media planning and budget justification.

A Similar Set Of Measurements

But that's mass media. What about something more specific, in particular, imprinted products? Developing and utilizing a similar set of measurements for promotional products can accomplish two objectives:

  • They would have enough in common with traditional mass media measurements that they'd be easily comprehended and deemed acceptable measures of effectiveness.
  • Such guidelines would incorporate the distinctive dimensions of promotional products and the very real advantages they tend to embody.

Promotional products have value to a recipient completely apart from their dominant function as an advertising medium, and the value of the item cannot easily, if at all, be separated from the message-delivery vehicle. (return to Cost-per-impression page)

On the other hand, television programming - the vehicle that delivers TV commercials to the viewers - can be easily divorced from the commercial. A good example is "zapping," where viewers immediately switch to another channel whenever any commercials come on or hit the remote's "mute" button, killing the sound so they don't have to listen. Many TV watchers wait until commercials to visit the bathroom, make a quick phone call, prepare a snack, and so on. As a result, viewers see the regular programming without the accompanying advertising.

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Medium And Message

Promotional products have the advantage that recipients are hard-pressed to separate the message from the valued medium. The measurement of effectiveness represented by intrinsic value is reach - the percent of the target audience that's exposed to the message at least one time. If the promotional product is delivered to a recipient, the message has absolutely been delivered at least once. This is very different than the delivery of a television commercial, which may or may not be delivered to the audience along with programming that's being watched. Consequently, the measure of reach for promotional products is, in fact, far more accurate and substantive than the measure of reach for either television or radio. (return to Cost-per-impression page)

Frequency is represented by promotional products' environmental compatibility. For mass-media advertising such as television, the viewer must choose to be exposed to an advertising message. Promotional products have a definite and obvious advantage in that they become part of the environment; that is, imprinted products are useful in a utilitarian or decorative sense, apart from any additional advertising function. And as such they're often placed where they will be encountered over and over again. The average number of times that a promotional product is encountered by the recipient in a given period of time represents the frequency with which the recipient is exposed to the message.

How To Do It

How about that? We have academics - marketing professors, no less - arguing convincingly for the superior reach and frequency of promotional products. Some pretty heady stuff. But I know what you're really interested in is practical application. So here are a few real-life examples of how a small but creative investment in promotional products paid off big for the end-user (that's you):Return to [ Idea Generator ]

  • Fish Lures Clients Lona Jensen Temporary Services, a 15-year-old firm based in San Francisco, wanted to improve its share of the temp market with a specialty - but in an unusual way. "We needed to break through the clutter of pens, mugs, rulers, key chains, etc. that our competitors use to get the attention of temp service users," explains VP Bruce Jensen.Jensen turned to Robert Anthony, a local marketing firm, for help. Only one condition: The promotional item had to be orange, Jensen's corporate color."We did a lot of advance research, including interviewing some temp users, to get a better handle on the market," explains Robert Anthony's President Robert Stankus. "But we still couldn't come up with a product we knew would command attention."The situation remained unresolved until one night when Stankus passed a pet shop with lighted fish tanks in its window. Then inspiration struck.The result: a glass fishbowl bearing the Jensen logo and phone number, hand-delivered to pre-selected temp users. What made the gift interesting was that it contained a live goldfish, along with an imprinted container of fish food.A further touch was the inclusion of a card proclaiming "Gulp!" in large letters. The inside copy described - and deflated - the three biggest fears companies might have about using temps. It also held a "golden opportunity" card good for a 25% discount on the first order and an entry form to win a temp for an entire day free of charge.Altogether, Stankus says, about 250 fishbowls were distributed. When follow-up calls were made, 100% of the recipients remembered the fishbowl, and 70% made appointments to meet with the temp firm. (return to Cost-per-impression page)
  • Local Tie-In Resonates With Recipients To help boost the city's profile, the Memphis, TN, Chamber of Commerce created several unique and aggressive mailings targeting corporations around the country. The objective was to inform them of the advantages Memphis offers as a corporate/business location. One recent mailing included four jars of Smucker's jams. The enclosed copy read: "Spread the word, Smucker's is jammin' from Memphis." The chamber chose Smucker's for a simple reason - the J.M. Smucker Co. has had its processing facility and distribution center in Memphis for over 30 years. Its story was used to show recipients that they too could be successful in Memphis. Another mailing tied into sports. Since the mailing was conducted during the World Series, chamber President David Cooley thought a baseball theme would work best. A select group of 277 prospects in the telecommunications, medical instruments and food-processing industries were chosen to receive a mailing containing a set of 15 Donruss baseball cards, manufactured in Memphis by Leaf Inc., North America. The cards were placed inside a custom box with graphics depicting a pitcher throwing a baseball - "If expansion is in your game plan …" read the cover copy. Inside the box was a photo of a baseball glove with the actual package of cards attached to the center of it. The copy continued: "Catch Memphis' stats for a winning season." The "stats" were a list of the advantages of locating a business in Memphis. The major difference between the baseball mailing and its predecessors was that it represented the first time the chamber had included a response mechanism. Recipients were asked to mail back a reply card or call a toll-free number to receive a complete set of 700 baseball cards valued at $39. Of the 277 packets mailed out, 71 companies responded - a 25.6% response rate. (return to Cost-per-impression page)
  • Pre-Show Mailing Boosts Booth Traffic VTech's ultimate mission was to make its Tropez digital phones a success in a market dominated by AT&T. Rather than go head to head, VTech President Steve Johnson chose to establish Tropez as a different type of cordless phone, choosing to introduce it to the electronics trade at the summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Prior to the show, VTech produced a creative mailing that included a logoed beach towel along with product information literature. The package went to 350 top retailers and included an invitation to visit the Tropez booth at the show.The towels were packaged in briefcase-sized cardboard boxes wrapped in a poster featuring a photo from the company's ad campaign. And since both the towels and posters were rather large, they also subtly alluded to Tropez's "wide-area coverage." Total cost of the mailing: $8,000, or $225 per prospect. Other pre-show mailings for other exhibits also used products that suggested "coverage." These included a golf umbrella and a sweatshirt. The products were selected because they called to mind an image of leisure, and all were white with a blue imprint. The mailings were timed to arrive a week or so before each show, so the recipient would have time to set up an appointment to talk with a Tropez rep on the show floor. "The mailers were designed to entice people into our booth," Johnson says. "We knew they'd be much more likely to open a big package to see what was inside than if we'd sent a traditional envelope filled with product literature." Johnson estimates that, to date, over 90% of the targeted retailers have been introduced to Tropez, and many are now selling it. At the CES, VTech generated more than 2,500 leads.  (return to Cost-per-impression page)

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.

Richard Kern is editor-in-chief of Imprint.

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