The History of Promotional Items And How This Trend Has Evolved In Last Couple of Decades

good suggestions for promotional gifts


Despite being a subject with corporate smell in it, the history of promotional items is interesting and written with innovative ideas and innovative people. Although this particular culture exploded just few decades ago but it is a centuries old tradition. The roots of promotional gifts go back to late 1780s. This is the first recorded and proved example of using promotional items effectively for business purposes.

Interestingly, the first promotional item ever used was “commemorative buttons” which were manufactured to celebrate the first president of US, George Washington. Even though it was a successful experiment (the proof is this article itself where we are mentioning those buttons), not many businesses started using this technique on a broader scale. It took businesses nearly a century to realize the importance and potential of promotional items. And that’s then they started exploring more options.

Promotional Product Industry in USA

In 1880s, a newsagent in Ohio realized that his printing machine stays idle most of the time so he must expand his horizon. The agent made a deal with a shoe store to print shoe bags for them. Those shoe bags were given free with the shoes. Of course, people would have used those bags for other purposes too after buying and carrying the shoes from the store.

In the same era, calendars were one of the most common promotional items. Soon after, many businesses picked the idea and started distributing promotional items. Also many people started businesses to manufacturer cost efficient promotional gifts in bulk. In 1904, some of the representatives and owners of those companies gathered in a meeting and they formed PPAI (Promotional Products Association International). This is an association that deals with trade shows, exhibitions and other events, even today.

Promotional Product Industry in UK

The promotional products market arrived in USA in 1880s yet it took another 70 years to arrive in UK. The trend of giving free promotional items started in 1950s in UK and it exploded in 1970s when almost every business started doing this. In the same era, promotional gifts became a synonym for branding. Promotional products businesses formed their own association with the name BPMA (British Promotional Merchandise Association) in 1965.

The promotional product industry we see today was pioneered decades ago and now businesses all over the globe use free promotional gifts to increase their brand awareness and even for marketing new products and services.

Some Oldest and Most Popular Promotional Products

Well, it drastically depends on your business, industry, products and goal of your marketing and branding efforts yet some promotional products have been the first choice of businesses for years.

Some of these are stationery gift items like notepads, pens, rulers, erasers, pencils, tote bags, purses, satchels, business card holders, address books, coffee cups, calendars, T-shirts, caps, hats, gloves and even socks. Interestingly the common denominator between these products is their cost efficiency and being a global commodity.

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