Promotional Products Sometimes Don't Work...

  • Mar 29, 2017

This was taken from an e-newsletter that I write where we feature case studies of promotional product and trade show marketing successes. I wanted to share this promotional product case study here because I think the takeaway from it is critical in helping people make the right promotional product choices.

This month's case study is a bit different than ever before. Instead of exploring something that worked, we're going to look at a promotional effort that, in my opinion, was a big fail. 

First of all, let me clearly state that, in order to protect the guilty, all company name, company locations and logo have been changed. Otherwise, the facts of the story and the item itself are all as I (Rama Beerfas, Chief Solutions Specialist of Lev Promotions) personally experienced them.

Here we go...

I was at a trade show recently as an attendee. One of the exhibitors (let's call them Impossible Aspirations) based out of Maryland, created a logo where all the "o's" in the company name were the crab graphic you see on the light bulb at the right. (The crab represented their corporate headquarters being in Maryland.) Their display theme was "fresh ideas" and they were also prominently announcing the opening of a new location in Denver, CO. 

Challenge: To achieve brand recognition within their industry at a prominent industry trade show in Las Vegas.

Solution: Give out light-bulb shaped containers filled with jelly beans to play back to the "fresh ideas" theme. I estimate they spent about $7,000 based on catalog pricing for this item for 1,000 units at $6/unit plus setup, sales tax and shipping costs.

Problems with the solution:

  • Jelly beans might be good, but they don't evoke "fresh." Maybe Jelly Bellys or an entirely different type of filling would have been a better choice.
  • The containers were glass. Each one weighs 3/4 lb. When you're toting that around a trade show floor, it can get heavy. It's also breakable, meaning that people have to be careful of it as they're carrying it around the trade show floor. If it's going home with them (most people I talked to said they were taking it for their kids), they also have to pack it carefully. I know at least two people that ended up leaving it in the hotel room for the maid because they didn't want to deal with it in their luggage. A better option would have been a plastic container - lighter and pretty much unbreakable.
  • Biggest problem of all: the only branding on this item was the crab logo imprint. NO BRAND NAME. NO WEBSITE. NO PHONE NUMBER. If someone wanted to contact this company but didn't remember their name and all they had was this item to go by, how would they know which exhibitor it was? Their name doesn't start with crab, nor does it contain the word crab in it. You could try a Google search and maybe you'd come come up with something, if you remember they're in Maryland. And, with ten other exhibitors on the show floor who do the same thing (two of whom are the major industry players), would you even bother?

Results: I took an informal poll of six people (that happens to be 1% of the number of people statistically expected to visit their booth based on the number of registered attendees). I either saw these people holding the light bulb or they were people who know what I do and asked what I thought of the item as a promotional product. I asked them, "Who was giving those out?" or "Do you remember who gave it to you?

  • None of the six people could tell me the name of the company they'd gotten it from. (As a seventh opinion, I, myself, mis-remembered the company name.)
  • Two people didn't even know the light bulb had a logo on it at all.
  • Two people thought the name must be related to crabs, somehow, but couldn't figure out how that would relate to the industry.

(By the way, the guy responsible for this company's promotion told me what a "success" it was because "everyone wants one" and "our logo is everywhere.")

It turns out that the jelly-filled light bulb managed to deliver one, final disappointment:

I gave it to my 15-year-old daughter because she likes jelly beans (as long as they're not the black licorice ones). She removed the shrink wrap, unscrewed the top, turned it upside down down to get her goodies and watch what happened:

Moral of the story: When you're ready to use promotional products effectively, work with a promotional product consultant (like Lev Promotions) who will ask questions and make imprint recommendations. Listen to their advice and you'll likely get the results you want.