Saturday, February 16, 2008

Guerrilla Marketing Time Machine: Advertising Specialties


Note: We are in a series examining "Old School" marketing techniques to see if they still have oomph. Jay Conrad Levinson's 1993 edition of Guerilla Marketing is our reference book.



Ad specialties don't get much love from professional marketers. I searched the 47 marketing blogs to which I subscribe and only came up with one entry specifically about advertising specialties.

Before we get into what Levinson thinks about ad specialties, let's get a definition: Promotional products that can be customized with a company's logo or slogan. (Eg, pens, t-shirts, cups/mugs, matches)

Levinson, in the '93 edition of Guerrilla Marketing, thought that ad specilties could be used to gain awareness of your business, but the tactic should only be part of your marketing mix.

"Consider these specialties ot be the equivalent of billboards. That means they are great for reminder advertising. They are usually terrible as your only marketing medium. They do, however, put your name in front of prospective customers."

According to Levinson, ad specialties were good sales door openers, and items with a high perceived value created "a sense of unconscious obligation." However, he much preferred free samples.

Best Uses
There are five primary considerations when deciding to use ad specialties.

  1. The Item -Exactly what are you going to give away?
    It's tempting to buy the cheap pens so that you can have something to give away. But don't do it. Save your money instead. Make it something out of the ordinary. If your are going to give away a pen, do something like a folding carabiner pen. It's functional and it's unique. In a drawer full of free pens, this one stands out.

    We did this type of pen for a medical clinic I consult and gave them out during patient appreciation day. They were a big hit with patients and staff alike. The nurses started wearing them around their necks.
  2. The Customer - Who's getting your freebie?
    Match your item to your audience. Don't just buy a bunch of stuff that you will give away to everyone. For example don't buy a bunch of memory sticks and then give them away to the over 55 crowd. When the same medical clinic mentioned above did a health fair for senior citizens, we gave away ruler/magnifier.
  3. The Objective - What are you trying to accomplish?
    If your objective is to just put your name in front of customers, then save your money. Have a specific purpose in mind when you buy your specialty. With the medical clinic, we did big refrigerator magnets listing all our medical specialties and the appointment phone number.

    Our main objective was to educate patients that we were multi-specialty and not just primary care. In addition, we wanted to give them easy access to our appointment phone number. And because they hold little Suzie's homework up on the frig, they're always visible. People loved them.
  4. Your Business - Is your business right for ad specialties?
    Remember that the objective is not just to get your name out there. I don't think ad specialties work that well for businesses such as carpet stores. People don't buy carpet that often. And when they do, it's a major purchase. It's unlikely that your free key chain is going to have an impact on their buying decision. The same goes for car dealers.

    I think ad specialties work best for businesses whose products are frequently bought and and widely used by a large percentage of the population. I think realtors overuse ad specialties. Restaurants, however, probably underuse them. How often do people wonder what they're going to do for lunch?
  5. The Setting - Where are you giving away your item?
    Does your freebie seem out of place? Consider how your item will be perceived when you give it away. Giving away calendars at a county fair would seem out of place. However, giving away caps at a golf tournament would be well received.

    The best ad specialty we did for our medical clinic client did not even have our logo on it. We ordered some yellow ribbon pins (support the troops) and gave them away on Memorial Day. Almost everyone wanted one, and put them on while they were still in the clinic. It created a lot of good will with our patients and made the staff feel proud.

Where to Buy
Competition is fierce in the ad specialties world. You can purchase them easily online and there are probably several dealers in your town. Shop around and compare. I have ordered directly online and I have used a local rep. The more complicated the project, the more you need to use a local rep. Sometimes they are even price competitive with internet re-sellers. If you are going to need help with your artwork, local companies who specialize in ad specialties (not the ones that do it on the side) can be a big help.

Try to find a good local rep, especially if you order several times a year. They can be useful in suggesting items that you might not have considered. They can also save you time by doing order placement and keeping track of production.

Get a few price quotes from local reps and compare them with prices online. Keep in mind that the company you are dealing with is not the manufacturer. Just about all ad specialty companies order from the same set of manufacturers. If one company has a specific item, then you get bet just about everyone has that item.

Guerrilla Marketing Tactic?
Ad specialties are indeed a guerrilla marketing tactic, but not the primary one. Use it only as an additional marketing support weapon.

Have you used ad specialties successfully? If so, please share them here.


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4 comments:

Marc Goodin said...

My self self storage staff has found promotional items such as ice scrapers, rulers, seeds etc has made it much easier to "stop by" to area businesses to say hi and talk storage needs.

Amabaie said...

All great advice.

A give-away can also be good for B2B prospects that might not be ready to buy. Not just to put a foot in the door to get in, but to leave a foot in the door after making contact. For this, it has to be something the prospect will use. That is why calendars and pens are so popular ...but something unique to your prospects business would be even better. Or, if there is an item for kids that will be kept around the prospects house...

Anonymous said...

everyone loves free stuff, as my dad Jay Levinson continues to say. Its so funny to see him pronounced "old school"..he is well and kicking and doing Intensive trainings at his home..I keep telling him he is old school. He doesn't believe it though--Amy Levinson, olympiagal@aol.com

Gaby said...

I think it has to be geared very much towards the audience, for example not long ago we did a dementia campaign so we gave out branded diaries, branded jigsaws, branded sudokus and lots of things to keep the mind active or enable memory.