Just as we were slowly getting back on our feet from COVID-19, the media reported that cases are still on the rise in certain areas across the country. Yikes.

Are you trying to get back to work safely, despite this news? It’s as easy as using custom items in clever and useful ways. You can keep your employees and customers safe and get the word out about your business at the same time. It’s simply about being creative.

You already know you should wear face masks and keep the hand sanitizer around. Now be inspired by this unexpected COVID-19 merchandise!

#1: Color-Coded Bracelets

Source: Twitter

New York businesses were wary of reopening during the pandemic. The C19 I.D. Project helped make it a smoother process with color-coded rubber bracelets. You wear whatever color that corresponds with your feelings about social distancing. It’s a simple, visual way to help people feel comfortable around each other again after months in quarantine.

Use This Strategy: This is a great idea if you’re returning to the office. Choose any 3 colors that catch your fancy (bonus points if you match them to your company’s logo). Place those bracelets in a bowl with signs that communicate a respective feeling about social distancing. Every one of your employees should then be required to wear one.

#2: Quippy T-Shirts

Source: Twitter

Jared Leto is a jack of all trades. He’s a singer, Academy Award winning actor, and now he’s a fashion designer. In an effort to raise money for charity, Leto released a line of Star Wars inspired custom t-shirts that read: “May the Forced Quarantine Be With You.” Fans went crazy over these rockin’ tees!

Use This Strategy:  Add an inspirational or punny message about COVID-19 or social distancing to plain tees and wear them in lieu of your typical work uniform. Your customers will appreciate the reminder that we’re all in this together.

#3: Fun & Unique Puzzles

Source: adweek.com

People love Netflix and video games, but that didn’t stop families from turning to puzzles during the pandemic. In fact, in the United States sales on jigsaw puzzles soared by over 370% from the previous year! McDonald’s took advantage of this trend with a burger-themed puzzle with 500 pieces.

Use This Strategy:  McDonald’ gave away this puzzle as a prize on Instagram. Offer something similar, even if it’s not a unique puzzle for your business and is instead something that you buy at the store. For instance, are you a restaurant? Find a food-themed puzzle to give away as a prize.

#4: Tote Bags for a Cause

Source: cbc.ca

Reusable tote bags have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re no longer allowed in grocery stores for the time being. However, that hasn’t stopped a non-profit named This Bag from donating 100% of their sales to helping small businesses receive the grants they need. This Bag has raised over $4,000 so far!

Use This Strategy:  The best way to get through the pandemic is by helping your neighbors. Purchase one of these tote bags from This Bag, or consider customizing your own bags with an uplifting message and donating the proceeds to a worthwhile cause. The World Health Organization and many others are currently raising money for COVID-19 relief.


“This Bag was started with one aim, to support small businesses that make up the framework of our communities. Now let’s offer the support they need to keep safe and well as they reopen or adapt in this ever changing marketplace.”

– Susie Gay, Co-founder of This Bag

#5: Jumbo Products

Source: businessinsider.com

Bigger in this case is better. Burger King got in on the weird fast food swag trend with giant cardboard crowns that were given away for free to customers. Meanwhile, Dos Equis also released their own jumbo branded merch – a 6-foot long cooler that was given away to one lucky customer.  

Use This Strategy:  A good sense of humor is a welcome change of pace during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can get your customers and employees to practice social distancing with funny signs or floor stickers, giant novelty items, and other quirky merchandise.

#6: Hands-Free Door Opener Keychains

Source: prnewswire.com

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in New York was one of the first to make brass door openers, but now these handy keychains are being sold all over the place online. The idea is simple – you can use the door opener to go in and out of buildings without having to touch the germy door handles. This is a big win during a pandemic.

Use This Strategy:  Surprise people and mail out door opener keychains to everyone in the community. You can tape them to a personal note that says something like “Support us as we reopen. Here’s a way to get inside.” The more heartfelt and authentic you are, the more people you’ll reach!

#7: Social Distancing Umbrellas

Source: edition.cnn.com

You can use a ton of items for the sake of social distancing. Just look at this village in India, which distributed 10,000 umbrellas to all of their residents. Local officials are requiring that everyone in this village use these umbrellas in tandem with face shields or masks when they’re out and about.  

Use This Strategy:  Are you hosting an outdoor event like a wedding, back-to-school picnic, or fundraiser? Hand out umbrellas to everyone in attendance! Not only is this good sun protection, but it also keeps everyone in their own respective bubble.

#8: E-Learning Headphones

Source: news.cgtn.com

JLab Audio, a company in California, donated over 3,000 pairs of headphones to a school district in San Diego. Some students are struggling with access to Wi-Fi, let alone having a good pair of headphones to hear their teachers. There’s a real need for this technology during the pandemic.

Use This Strategy:  Give out custom headphones to schools or nearby community centers. E-learning might continue into the near future, which means your business can help out with the future of education. This is an especially good strategy if your target audience is kids or students.

#9: Beautiful Coloring Books

Source: companyinq.com

Coloring is said to be therapeutic, which makes well-designed coloring books more timely than ever before. Company Inq., a Chicago based design agency, created COVID-19 themed coloring books that were hand-drawn by local artists. These are currently available for free download on the company’s website.

Use This Strategy:  Lay out free coloring sheets in your lobby or waiting area. You can even download essential worker coloring sheets for free by visiting this article!


“Although many brands and customers may be physically separated as a result of pandemic safety measures currently in place, merchandise like the graffiti art coloring book allows organizations to connect, inspire, teach, and support during such an unprecedented time.”

– John Morrison, Co-founder of Company INQ

#10: Themed Die Cut Stickers

Source: sacurrent.com

Die cut stickers are a favorite among bands, podcasts, and streetwear apparel brands. Now you can use these trendy stickers to spread a positive message during COVID-19. Take, for example, the stickers pictured above, which were created by a design company in Texas called DeuxSouth. All of the proceeds from these stickers went back to food banks in San Antonio.

Use This Strategy:  A toilet paper roll shaped sticker is a lot more memorable than a traditional square or circle. Cut stickers in unique shapes and use them in lieu of your pricing stickers. You can also take a page out of DeuxSouth’s book and sell custom stickers as a way to make extra money for a worthwhile charity or cause.

#11: Extra Casual Hats

Source: houstoniamag.com

Stay-in-place orders were in effect for months during 2020, and as a result, lazy wear like yoga pants and baseball caps became more popular than ever before. Emily Brill in Houston took advantage of this trend by selling “Not Doing Things” hats on her Shopify site. The proceeds from each hat went to NYC Health + Hospitals, an organization that supports healthcare workers in the Big Apple.

Use This Strategy:  Print a fun message on baseball hats and hand them out as gifts to your employees. Your team will wear these hats when they’re running to the grocery store or taking a walk in the neighborhood. If the message is interesting enough, other people passing by will ask questions, which means more exposure for your business.

#12: Sticky Notes to Spread Joy

Source: distractify.com

A woman in Ohio handwrote funny sticky notes and posted them near products in her local Walmart. This was in response to employees at the store who were openly feeling stressed in meeting the increased demand for goods like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. These small sticky notes were an easy way to make Walmart’s employees feel a little bit better.

Use This Strategy:  Are you reopening? Put sticky notes around your business as a way to bring a smile to each customer’s face. Maybe you post one on the mirror in the bathroom, or another near the reception desk. A little message can do wonders, and if you’re lucky, your customers may just snap a pic and share your notes on social media!

#13: Useful Power Banks

Source: businessinnovationmag.com

During quarantine, we were unable to see our loved ones as frequently, which has made cell phones a real lifesaver. Juice, a mobile accessories manufacturer in the United Kingdom, provided an essential 100% battery by giving out free power banks to people living with COVID-19.

Use This Strategy:  Phone chargers are a must-have during the pandemic. Make sure along with a working computer and desk, your remote team has access to a portable charger. When the internet randomly goes out, you’ll want to make sure each employee has a fully-charged cell phone nearby.

#14: Delicious Candy Bundles

@EconomyCandy, Instagram

It’s a tough time in our country, so it’s no wonder we are all craving something sweet. Economy Candy, a small candy shop in New York City, put together “CandyCare Packs” and are selling them online. Now you can get all your favorite treats without having to leave the safety of your house! To date, they’ve sold over 5,000 packages of candy and are even looking to expand to a push cart that they sell from in front of their store during the summer!

Use This Strategy:  You don’t have to sell candy to bundle it up as a gift for your customers. Consider customizing a few lollipops or Skittles packages with a clever message like “You’re So Sweet” and offering them as a gift with purchase. It’s small, but it will help make your business stand apart from the others, which matters during this extra competitive time.


“Over the past few months we have transitioned our entire business to be online. People are paying it forward and sending CandyCare Packs to their literal neighbors in lieu of a regular social visit now made impossible by social distancing measures. It’s incredibly touching and heartwarming to see communities support each other while supporting us.

– Skye G., Co-founder of Economy Candy

#15: Disposable Pens for Paperwork

Source: providentlawyers.com

The housing market, like many other industries, has taken a huge hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. Case in point, web traffic to sites like Zillow and Redfin dropped by 40% in the immediate aftermath. Still, that isn’t stopping people from looking for new homes or rentals. Knight Barry Title, an insurance and closing company in Wisconsin, ordered hundreds of cheap disposable pens and are encouraging clients to keep them as a souvenirs after a signing.

Use This Strategy:  Any business with a lot of paperwork can order personalized pens that their clients can keep, whether you’re a real estate agency, doctor’s office, or lawyer. Be creative and print a clever message on the barrel like “Keep This Pen” or “This Pen is Now Yours.” It’s a memorable way to make an impact during COVID-19.

Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t stop finding creative ways to promote your business during the pandemic. Custom merch, especially items that are thoughtful and creative, are a step in the right direction.

Times are tough right now, and every little thing you do can help. So take a break from buying business cards or radio ads, and give one of these custom merch ideas a whirl!

References

Warner, A. (2020, May 30). Color-Coded Bracelets Could Communicate Your COVID-19 Status as US Reopens. Retrieved from, https://www.radio.com/1010wins/articles/color-coded-bracelets-could-communicate-covid-status

Skinner, T. (2020, April 7). Jared Leto Releases ‘Star Wars’-Inspired Quarantine T-shirt for Charity. Retrieved from, https://www.nme.com/news/film/jared-leto-releases-star-wars-inspired-quarantine-t-shirt-for-charity-2642579

Menapace, B. (2020, May 12). McDonald’s and Heinz Are Giving Out Branded Puzzles on Instagram (and One is Really Hard). Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/mcdonalds-heinz-giving-branded-puzzles-instagram-one-really-hard/

Miller, H. (2020, April 6). Demand for Jigsaw Puzzles is Surging as Coronavirus Keeps Millions of Americans Indoors. Retrieved from, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/03/coronavirus-sends-demand-for-jigsaw-puzzles-surging.html

Sowa, E. (2020, March 26). Economy Candy Sells ‘CandyPacks’ to Help NYC’s Oldest Candy Shop Survive Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved from, https://abc7ny.com/coronavirus-small-business-nyc-ny/6041980/

CBC News. (2020, May 30). Tote Bag Sales to Fund Grants for Small Businesses Hurt by COVID-19. Retrieved from, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/this-bag-helps-small-businesses-1.5585875

Business & Innovation Magazine. (2020, April 29). Oxfordshire Based Mobile Phone Accessory Company Supports Those in Hospital With COVID-19. Retrieved from, https://www.businessinnovationmag.co.uk/mobile-phone-accessory-company-supports-those-in-hospital-with-covid-19/

Mitra, E. (2020, April 27). This Indian Village is Distributing 10,000 Umbrellas to Help Maintain Social Distancing. Retrieved from, https://edition.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-pandemic-04-27-20-intl/h_bdf7c4934be44f8cc307c1b887559d6a

San Diego County Office of Education. (2020, April 29). County Students Receive Headphones From Local Company, JLab Audio, to Help With Distance Learning. Retrieved from, https://www.sdcoe.net/news/Pages/headphone-donation-jlab-audio.aspx

Ben-Amots, Z. (2020, April 16). Artists Collaborate to Create COVID-19 Coloring Book. Retrieved from, https://abc7chicago.com/coloring-book-free-covid-creative-activities-artists/6108522/

Andrews, J. (2020, April 23). How Coronavirus is Impacting the Housing Market. Retrieved from, https://www.curbed.com/2020/3/6/21163523/coronavirus-economic-impact-housing-market

Ryan, S. (2020, March 15). Closing on a Home Purchase? Keep the Pen, Say Coronavirus-Minded Mortgage Officials. Retrieved from, https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/03/15/closing-on-a-home-purchase-keep-the-pen-say.html

Mendez, D. (2020, April 24). Design Company DeuxSouth Selling Pandemic-Themed Stickers to Benefit San Antonio Food Bank. Retrieved from, https://www.sacurrent.com/ArtSlut/archives/2020/04/24/design-company-deuxsouth-selling-pandemic-themed-stickers-to-benefit-san-antonio-food-bank

Wendlandt, C. (2020, April 14). One Houston Native is Selling Hat to Support Healthcare Workers in New York. Retrieved from, https://www.houstoniamag.com/style-and-shopping/2020/04/houston-native-selling-hats-not-doing-things-support-nyc-healthcare-workers

Ifeanyi, K. (2020, March 26). Mom Spreads a Little Joy for Overworked Walmart Employees With Hilarious Post-it Notes. Retrieved from, https://www.fastcompany.com/90482498/mom-spreads-a-little-joy-for-overworked-walmart-employees-with-hilarious-post-it-notes

Menapace, B. (2020, June 30). Dos Equis is Giving Away a Six-Foot Branded Cooler to Practice Social Distancing. Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/3609/

Coffey, H. (2020, May 26). Burger King Introduces Giant Cardboard Crowns to Encourage Social Distancing. Retrieved from, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/burger-king-cardboard-crowns-social-distancing-coronavirus-germany-a9533486.html

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.