What is promotional merchandise and what makes it so effective?

Promotional merchandise, promotional products, promotional items or promotional gifts, are usually relatively low cost but useful items that are branded with a company logo, and contact details or strapline for use in marketing campaigns or giveaways to promote a brand, product or event.

So we’ve established what promotional merchandise is, but as a marketing or advertising tool, does it actually work?

We’ve got the stats

The British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) commissioned a survey to establish why buyers used promotional merchandise in their business, and included respondents across the finance, IT, retail, services, insurance, charity and education sectors.

When asked about the main reasons why merchandise was used in sales and marketing campaigns as opposed to other incentives, 69% stated that it was because it “targets customers effectively”, 52% because the “brand message lasts longer” and 46% because of its “ability to create loyalty”.

Promotional items BPMA research

The survey also asked about the purpose for which promotional merchandise was purchased. Nearly three-quarters stated that it was for use at conferences and events, and 63% for “brand awareness and rebranding”. Merchandise was also used for “cause awareness” and “product launches and roll-outs” because “promotional merchandise is often highly effective for getting attention and driving sales”.

73% of buyers use merchandise at promotional events

The ways in which promotional merchandise was used was also highlighted by the fact that 69% of respondents stated that items were usually used in product giveaways, with 13% as a call to action and nearly one-fifth (19%) always using a strapline on the product.

The survey also showed that promotional merchandise was a frequent and regular purchase, with two thirds stating they made a purchase either every month or every three months.

66% of senior marketers purchase promotional products at least every three months

Fast-forward to the PPAI 2017 Buyer Study which looked at the role of promotional products among US purchasers and found 96% of buyers believed they are an effective form of advertising. Buyers were using promotional products to “increase brand awareness” (63%), “brand recognition” (61%) or drive direct response such as word of mouth (90%), prompting reviews (91%) or even gaining new customers (89%).

One particularly significant point to note here is that in both surveys the percentage of buyers using promotional merchandise for brand awareness is holding steady at 63%, proving that it is clearly an incredibly effective, and cost effective, tool regardless of geographic location.

When do brands use promotional products?

68% of brands surveyed consider promotional products as part of new marketing initiatives. Networking events such as trade shows, seminars or conferences are considered the best time to use promotional products, with around half using promotional items in business meetings, sales presentations or direct mail.

Research also found that brands use promotional products to enhance their brand image internally by providing items that can be taken home – such as clothing – and with branded items that can be used or displayed in the workplace.

Quality (73%), type (63%) and cost (55%) were the biggest influencers among buyers surveyed while a third preferred to source eco-friendly promotional products.

Why are promotional items so effective?

According to Advertising Speciality Institute (ASI), the promotional products industry is thriving because branded items such as hats, T-shirts and bags are “traveling advertisements that leave a lasting impression”.

An ASI Industry Study in 2016 calculated the number of impressions (or views) each promotional product receives based on how long an item is retained and how many people come into contact with that item on a monthly basis; the figures are impressive, with branded clothes, bags and pens in the Top 5 on both sides of the pond. Calendars made the Top 5 in London, with caps being more popular in the US.

Top 5 impressions of promotional merchandise in London Top 5 impressions of promotional merchandise in the US

When asked to rate the popularity of up to three promotional items received over the prior 12 months, pens were the most popular item among UK respondents, with t-shirts, calendars, bags and drinkware completing the top 5.

Promotional merchandise impressions breakdown for London

Across all countries surveyed, “Useful” was the top reason for keeping a promotional product, so if you’re considering adding a promotional product to your marketing or direct mail campaign, consider your audience demographic and what they would most value.

A case in point

If you needed any further convincing of the power of promotional merchandise in building your brand, surely the rise of Donald Trump from TV personality and business tycoon to President of the United States of America is a case in point. During his presidential campaign, Trump spent $3.2 million just on his red “Make America Great Again” caps. Once in office, he spent $2.4million on t-shirts, mugs, banners and stickers and another $728,000 on caps in a single month after his election according to figures released by the ASI.

US impressioms breakdown of promotional merchandise

In fact the Trump campaign spent far more on promotional merchandise than it did on more traditional areas such as polling, TV advertising or campaign staffing – and way more than the Clinton team – while his total campaign spend was only $33.6 million compared to Hillary Clinton’s $176.2 million, so it’s certainly feasible that Trump’s investment in what political insiders refer to as “collateral” helped him win the hearts and minds of the people where it mattered most.

And thinking about news coverage of the Republican rallies around the Midterm elections, it’s clear that the White House is still investing heavily in those “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. How much might that have cost in advertising revenues to get the same level of brand promotion into homes across America? The ASI puts the cost per impression at 2.5 cents for primetime TV and just 0.7 cents for a promotional item!

In short, promotional merchandise targets customers effectively, ensures brand messages last longer and creates loyalty at a low cost per impression.

Here at Total Merchandise we have been living and breathing promotional products for over 14 years and pride ourselves on the quality of our merchandise, our competitive prices and our customer service. We are also continually adding to our range of environmentally friendly and recycled products, as well as vegan-friendly alternatives to leather.

If promotional merchandise is part of your future marketing mix, we’d love to help you put a shortlist of potential products together so give us a call on 01376 509092.

Industry who’s who


Established in 1965, the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) is one of the UK's leading industry bodies dedicated to promoting best practice around the sourcing, manufacturing and distribution of promotional products. With more than 600 members, the BPMA is a creative and vibrant organisation setting the benchmark for expertise, quality and professionalism across the promotional marketing industry.


Since 1903, Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) has been the trusted authority in the promotional products industry delivering essential knowledge, resources and community to ensure the success of its 15,000 members worldwide, those who manufacture, import and resell promotional products, and the promotional products industry itself.


Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) is the promotional product industry’s largest membership organization offering media, technology, marketing and education to help cultivate success and community.

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