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What Is a Promotional Giveaway?

Heidi Thorne is the author of "SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business."

Copyright Thorne Communications LLC

Copyright Thorne Communications LLC

What Is a Promotional Giveaway?

A promotional giveaway (also referred to as a promotional product, advertising specialty, or simply swag) is an item on which a logo or other marketing message is imprinted. The purpose of the item is to keep an organization's name and information in front of its target audience.

Useful everyday items are usually chosen because of the high likelihood that they will be retained and utilized, thereby increasing the number of impressions for the organization's marketing message. Because of the high impression potential which decreases the cost per advertising impression, promotional giveaways can be a cost-effective marketing tool.

Promotional giveaways also have the power of gifting working in their favor. When people receive a gift, they are more likely to want to reciprocate by buying or supporting the giver.

Promotional Giveaway History

While it may seem that promotional merchandise printed with logos has been around forever, the industry is relatively young.

Some early uses include commemorative buttons for United States President George Washington, calendars, and rulers. But the industry didn't really get underway until later in the 19th century when a printer in Ohio convinced a shoe store to provide printed bags to local schools. (Wikipedia)

In 2012, the industry is estimated to be a 19.4 billion dollar industry. It is represented by two leading industry associations: Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) and Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). The industry is segmented into distributors (consultants and retailers who sell promotional products directly to businesses and consumers) and suppliers (companies that sell merchandise and imprinting services to distributors). Promotional giveaways are sold through distributors by direct selling efforts and websites on the Internet.

How Are They Used?

Promotional giveaways are, quite literally, given away! Organizations distribute them to customers, sales prospects, and others who can help support their marketing efforts.

Common distribution venues and methods include:

  • Trade shows and expos
  • Conferences and meetings
  • Special events such as fundraisers and golf outings
  • Entertainment events
  • Retail stores
  • Restaurants
  • During in-person sales calls
  • Direct Mail

These items are usually given away for free to encourage purchases and to build awareness or as a reward for purchasing.

Some of the more popular promotional giveaway categories include:

  • T-shirts
  • Polo (golf) shirts
  • Pens
  • Tote Bags
  • Mugs, water bottles, and drinking cups
  • Calendars
  • Hats
  • Jackets and sweatshirts
  • Desk accessories
  • Magnets
  • Stickers, bumper stickers, and decals
  • Household and auto items
  • Lanyards and badge holders
  • Buttons
  • Stress balls
  • Electronic and mobile phone accessories
  • Personal care items (hand sanitizers, nail files, etc.)
  • Food gifts and candy

As lifestyles, attitudes, and technology change, so do promotional products. However, basic product categories such as T-shirts and mugs continue to generate significant revenues year after year because they fulfill basic human needs.

While some giveaways may be best sellers, they may not be best for all markets and audiences. A thorough analysis of the target market's tastes should be done before any giveaway purchase.


One of the challenges of using promotional giveaways, as with all promotional advertising, is that people may receive these gifts and incentives and never buy from the giving organization. This increases marketing and advertising costs without results. Therefore, distribution should be restricted to the highest potential audiences only.

In addition to the cost of the actual products, several associated costs must be accounted for in the marketing budget. These include:

  • Setup Charges. These are the costs to set up and run the imprinting equipment for an order. Can also include ink or other materials and costs associated with the imprinting process. Watch the following video for further explanation.
  • Shipping and Handling. The larger and heavier the items, the greater the cost of freight to ship the order. In some cases, the freight costs can even be almost as much as the products themselves.
  • Storage. Once received, an organization must find an area in which to store the items until they are to be used. Some items, particularly food and personal care products, may also have expiration dates and storage specifications (such as refrigeration) which must be monitored.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 22, 2013:

Thanks @billybuc for the kind comments! Totally agree that they are an effective tool for building goodwill and repeat business. Cheers!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 22, 2013:

I owned a convenience store for six years and we always had promotional giveaways. They were popular with our customer base and they spread goodwill. Great look at this important marketing tool.