Working in Marketing roles for the better part of 10 years, I have crossed paths with a creature normal, non-Pantone-colour-appreciating people will never have to engage with - the Promotional Product Salesperson.
These are the used car dealers of the stationery world, the albinos of the advertising industry, the people nobody from the Printers Association wanted to speak to at last year’s Christmas Party at Bowlarama.
These insidious types peddle their crap with a desperation you can see and a taste you can munch.
If they aren't forcing their way into your office like a team of special forces operatives, armed with the latest in ruler innovations, they are bombarding you with actual mail (who does that anymore? These guys!) filled with catalogues (yep remember those, kids born before 1995?) of the coolest new thing in drink coolers.
No matter how much you preach to them that marketing has moved beyond the physical and into the digital, that it is about telling a brand’s story and not just plastering a logo, about making an emotional connection and not just an embossed business cardholder; they just wont listen!
“I am a Marketing professional too!” they’ll cry in desperate attempt at authority, sounding just like a security guard trying to persuade skateboarding teens to leave his 7-11.
“I understand your brand. What better way to express it than on a pen! Everyone uses a pen! When they pick up this pen who are they going to think of? You guys or the competition over at Big Easy Inc?! Huh…Huh…c’mon what do you say? I need this commission! My 17 year old daughter just made the national hockey squad. Do you have any idea how expensive custom protective female cupping is?”
The saddest part is that deep down, you know he’s right. The promotional pen is one of the greatest marketing mediums in the history of capitalism. Heck, even the North Korean Government probably has a few with their logo for visiting guests.
I have a long love-hate relationship with the promo pen. Nothing is better than getting a well crafted pen at a conference, expo, symposium, members meeting, community gala or launch opening day. For the last 25 years I don't think I have purchased a single ink dispensing unit. I still get a kick of endorphins whenever I secure a new, free, well presented pen. I judge the giver by the weight, design and quality of penmanship. I once bought a 3 year subscription to Goldfish Monthly due to an custom engraved Parker Pen and I didn't even have a fish or speak Cantonese!
Then there is another part of me that is disgusted with it all.
I am a kleptomaniac when it comes to these things, amassing draws full that could fulfil the pen license requirements of an entire Pacific Island nation for five years. My want for free-lady Penny P is just fuelling the lifestyle of those perverted Promotional Product Salesmen!
It occurred to me recently that change could be coming. I have noticed a trend away from the branded pen to the logo’d USB stick. It seems that the giveaway has gone as close to premium and digital as an industry ruled by 50+ year old men in short-sleeved-shirt-and-tie packs from Dimmey’s, would allow.
I don't see my drawers filling as quickly with the USB stick. Don't get me wrong- there is something comforting about expanding my portable physical data storage capacity. I could easily become a doomsday-prepper of data. ‘The Cloud’ (which isn't really a thing in the sky but massive farms of servers owned by Amazon, Google and Apple who mine your data using robotic gnomes and then use it to devise products you cannot help but buy…like wifi cat food bowls) is too good a thing to not win. USB sticks will become just another item in the graveyard of promotional items. And by that time will be sold only by ex-criminals, as they will be the only people in society willing to do the job.
Now, can I interest you in a free Blackframes pen?