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Creating Reusable Promotional Items to Promote Brand Awareness

One would think that a teenager or young adult in a mall holding a bag with a Nike swoosh logo would be more interested in the shoes in the bag than in the bag itself. While this is probably true, the branding on the bag has nevertheless become very important in today's culture. People reuse the bags. Some love the idea of being seen with a Nike bag, or perhaps a Nordstrom bag, Kenneth Cole, Coach, Rubbish, Trailer Park Trash – the list goes on.

It's no longer just about the contents of the bag. The logo on the bag, and the brand it represents, have risen significantly in importance. This is even true for the label on the product. You can now see the tags sewn onto the outside of a garment (and no longer just hidden inside).

Or think about the t-shirts with logos for Aeropostale or American Eagle. Could you imagine that men and women of all ages would pay money for the opportunity to advertise a store or a line of clothing?

Personally, I think people delight in the humor and word-play on shopping bags—such as the Container Store's “Contain Yourself.” I also think people like recycling and reusing fabric shopping bags and other products. Finally, I think they like bags that artistically reflect the tenor of the times: such as “Industrial Chic” and “Shabby Chic” products. After all, people now pay a premium for frayed jeans with holes in them. Or think back to the 1960s, to Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup can screen printed on a shopping bag. Some current shopping bags also turn icons of popular culture into art. This is part and parcel of branding.

What Is a Brand?

In the Old West ranchers branded their cattle by burning their mark onto the animals' rumps. They did this so other people would know who owned the cattle. Later, when I was growing up in the 1960s, the word “brand” referred to a particular product, like an Emerson television. At that time it was called a brand name.

Now, in marketing parlance, the phrase has been shortened to the word “brand,” and this word carries a deeper meaning than the name of the television (or other product) itself. It encompasses all of the attributes customers associate with the product. For instance, this might include high quality, exclusivity, style, and technological expertise. For a sound system it might imply acoustic precision. The customer associates all of these intangible, yet powerful, qualities with the brand and, by association, with the product.

Why buy an LG television? Or a pair of Beats headphones? They're just better. So the logic goes. And a shrewd marketing executive can intentionally attach values and attributes to the brand he or she presents in a marketing campaign, through the savvy use of color, typeface, and other elements of design.

You see the brand, and you just know the product is stylish, well designed, and of the highest quality.

What Does This Have to Do With Shopping Bags and T-Shirts?

Certain marketing items are the proverbial “gifts that keep on giving.” Think about it. As a marketing executive or designer, if you screen print your company's logo on a brown kraft shopping bag and your brand has the power to inspire customers to carry the bag around long after the initial purchase, you get the following benefits:

1. The person carrying the bag sees the logo repeatedly, and this continual exposure reinforces the logo, the brand, and the brand attributes in the person's mind. The key here is “repeatedly.”

2. Whenever the person carries the bag (perhaps even to take lunch to work), many other people are also exposed to the brand. Subconsciously, and simply by seeing the logo colors, typefaces, and overall “look” of the art on the bag and the bag itself, those who come into contact with the person carrying the bag are being exposed to the brand and the brand attributes. In essence, wherever the person goes with the bag, he or she is marketing the company and its intangibles.

3. Hats, t-shirts, bags, calendars, even the fold-up chairs people take to concerts all share certain attributes. They are functional. They are used repeatedly (unlike a brochure that may be read and discarded). And because they are durable and functional enough to become a regular part of a customer's lifestyle accessories, they provide exceptional marketing value. The production cost of one fabric Whole Foods Market bag, for instance, becomes negligible when it is seen by everyone in the family, multiple shoppers in the store, and perhaps a customer's office associates. The same is true for a paper bag from Chipotle.

Brand Affiliation: The Glue that Holds All of This Together

If people don't care about a brand, carrying around a bag with a logo could be worse than not having the bag in the first place. In the 1970s and early 1980s, I remember an appetite suppressant candy called Ayds. It was pronounced just like the disease AIDS, which became the scourge of the later 1980s. The fact that the two words sounded alike did horrible things for the appetite suppressant brand. Back then, you would not want to be seen sporting a t-shirt or bag emblazoned with this logo.

Why? It really comes down to the human need for affiliation. We want to be a associated with those things that reflect our values. A person who works hard to eat healthy foods and eschews food additives might want to carry a Whole Foods branded grocery bag long after his or her trip to the grocery store because it identifies her or him as a member of the “tribe.” He or she is one who values healthy, responsibly-sourced food and cleaning products. Carrying such a promotional bag may say to others on the street that a person cares about the workers who pick the strawberries he or she eats.

People want to be a part of groups they admire. They also want to be seen as belonging to these groups. Reusable marketing items that reflect a brand can contribute dramatically to this effort.

What Fits Into the Category of Reusable Branded Items?

If this concept inspires you as a designer or marketing executive, what kinds of products might you design?

One marketing manager I knew ten years ago made foam rubber BlackBerry smartphones with the client's logo on the rubber screen. Back then BlackBerry was a powerful brand among executives. These little foam rubber desk ornaments, or paperweights, made a big impression. They were cute. They promoted the client's brand. And they stayed on people's desks.

Consider screen printing or inkjet printing your company's logo and tag line on any number of products. These might include umbrellas, hats, mugs, pens, briefcases, folding canvas chairs, bumper stickers, magnets, calendars, even kitchen sponges (the compressed ones that grow when they get wet). Anything that will be useful, durable, and long lasting will work.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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