You’ve probably encountered promotional products at some point. You know, t-shirts, water bottles, pens… all that merch you see at concerts, worn by fans at an NBA game, sold online by your favorite podcasts, or sitting on the tables at college job fairs. Swag is everywhere!

As an advertising medium, it’s not enough to just order this marketing swag put it on a table or throw it in a gift shop, and call it a day. You have to do some leg work and be clever with how you use it. It’s the only way to really get the most ROI out of the deal.

Do you want to see this in action? Here are examples of downright clever promotional marketing that use branded merch. You’ll want to steal these advertising ideas for yourself!

1. Sticker Challenge – Timesuck Podcast

Timesuck Stickers
Source: Twitter

Dan Cummins, the host of the podcast Timesuck, asked his fans to stick custom stickers in random areas around their neighborhood. They could then take a pic for social media and share it with #spreadthesuck. The more times a fan posted, the more times they were entered to receive $100 in free “Timesuck” merch like t-shirts, hoodies, insulated water bottles, and tapestries.

Why it’s genius:  The fans are doing all the work, but they want to be part of the action and putting stickers in random places is a fun challenge. It also doesn’t hurt that the prize they win reaffirms their fandom and also goes back to marketing the show.

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“The merch is a way to give to your community of fans so they have something to represent on their end. They love what you’re doing and want to be part of it.”
– Joe Paisley, Video/Audio Production for Timesuck

2. Pop-Up Laundry Mat – LG

LG laundry bags

LG showed the power of their appliances with a complimentary laundry mat at Bonnaroo in 2018. The LG crew on site wore a uniform of promotional t-shirts and baseball hats and supplied the concert goers with 25 free washers and dryers. They even hosted a vintage clothing swap!

Why it’s genius:  Music festivals are known for getting dirty, giving LG a beautiful opportunity to show off their appliances. Their promotional marketing upped their cool factor, made Bonnaroo more memorable, and helped them win over a younger target audience.

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3. Donut Pop-Up Shops – Google

Google donut shop

Google took things offline by opening pop-up donut shops in Los Angeles and New York. People who stopped by could go up to a built-in counter and receive a custom box that contained one of two surprises – 1) a delicious donut, or 2) a brand new Google Home Mini. This was a smart marketing strategy since 85% of customers are likely to make a purchase after participating in an event.

Why it’s genius:  Perhaps no company is more well-known than Google. However, the computer screen is often situated between them and their customers. These pop-up shops, and the sweet treats inside, gave the famous search engine a way to interact directly with their fans.

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4. Hot Wheels Giveaway – Chicago Auto Show

Ford Mustang Hot Wheels

Almost every year at the Chicago Auto Show, Ford comes through with exclusive Hot Wheels that they give away to the crowd. The catch? You can only get your hands on these custom promotional products every hour for a limited time, so you have to get there quickly! 

Why it’s genius:  There’s both a sense of urgency here and an excuse to seek out Ford every year. Many people come to the auto show with their kids who love a free toy and may just have a special place in their hearts for Ford when they’re driving in the future. Plus, it creates a collector’s market for these giveaways and encourages people to visit the auto show next year.

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“Giveaway items prove to be an effective way to connect with consumers and potential consumers.”
– Mark Bilek, Senior Director of Communications & Technology for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association

5. Merch Scavenger Hunt – Birdhouse

Tony Hawk Twitter Hunt

Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk started his company, Birdhouse, in 1992. In 2012, the company started the “Twitter Hunt.” Fans could find one of 80 gift boxes hidden in major cities all over the world. These boxes were filled with branded swag from major sponsors like Jones Soda, Vans, and Pirate’s Booty potato chips.

Why it’s genius:  Many brands were promoted in one swoop with this clever promotional marketing campaign. It was kind of like an Easter egg hunt for adults, which was fun for everyone who participated. This interactive experience sparked a lot of conversations both offline and on social media.

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6. Holiday Gift Boxes – Poler

Poler holiday gift box

Social media is a great way to engage in promotional marketing. Take for example this campaign ran by Poler, where fans could tag two friends to be entered for the chance to win a box of free branded swag. This company specializes in outdoor equipment and apparel, so the box included such items as beanie hats and Frisbees.

Why it’s genius:  Who doesn’t want the chance to win some cool stuff for free? Poler was able to increase their social engagement and win over the crowd with their promo items. Not to mention, a social media contest like this one can attract an average of 17,500 new fans.

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7. T-Shirt Movie – Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola Wearable Movie shirts

Coca-Cola is no stranger to branded merchandise. There are even people who collect their coolers, vintage signs, and clocks. However, in 2013 they took their promotional marketing to the next level with a “Wearable Movie.” Hundreds of fans received a complimentary Coca-Cola t-shirt and were asked to star in a short film. Each t-shirt was unique and contributed to the story presented in the movie.

Why it’s genius:  The customers were asked to be a part of the marketing, and in turn, got something for free out of the deal. Everyone wants that moment of fame, and by “starring” in Coca-Cola’s movie, the fans got to feel like they were part of something big.

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“Branded giveaways still have an impact despite businesses focusing on online marketing.”
USA Today

8. Weight Loss Calendars – Cia Athletic

Cia Athletica calendars

Cia Athletica noticed dwindling memberships at their gym every month. To counter this, they gave new members these clever calendars, which show the process of losing weight over time. You start in January and by December look like a muscle builder!

Why it’s genius:  These promotional calendars are not only creative, but are also used in a way to drive more business to the gym. A gift with a membership is one thing, but this one does double duty by keeping people on track with their fitness goals.

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9. Direct Mail Candles – Earth Hour

Earth Hour direct mailer candles

The BBC reports that 80% of the world’s population lives under light-polluted skies. Earth Hour, a movement organized by the World Wide Fun for Nature, encouraged large businesses to turn off their lights by mailing out these yellow candles. They were housed inside of boxes that looked like buildings, so when the candles were removed, it represented turning off the lights. Company support for this movement went up by 260% as a result of the campaign.

Why it’s genius: Earth Hour is demonstrating the fact that you attract more flies with honey than poison. They weren’t criticizing companies, but rather, providing them with a complimentary gift that represented their mission.

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10. Remote Control Socks – Netflix

Netflix remote control socks

Netflix is a leading streaming site with more than 200 million subscribers as of 2020. Since many people fall asleep while watching their favorite shows, Netflix came out with a solution – remote control socks! These clever custom socks have built-in sensors that pause your program if you fall asleep. It takes “Netflix and Chill” to a whole new level!

Why it’s genius: This promotional marketing idea is genius! Netflix is very aware of what their consumers need, and are addressing it in a cheeky way that makes people smile. Let’s see you do that, Hulu!   

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11. Summer Ice Breaker  – JetBlue

JetBlue ice block campaign

After a long, brutal winter, we all feel ready for the summer! JetBlue took advantage of that feeling with two giant ice blocks that were set up in Manhattan. Various prizes were hidden inside of the ice, including branded summer apparel, flip flops, and sports equipment. People also had the chance to crack open the ice block and win free airfare from New York to Palm Springs.

Why it’s genius: A giant ice block in the middle of Manhattan is bound to get attention! Plus, people will frequent the area for a chance to win the cool prizes housed inside. All of this helps get more impressions for JetBlue and make the airline more memorable.

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12. Car Mirror Decals  – Miami-Dade Animal Shelter

animal shelter car decal

Dogs love sticking their head out a car window! Miami-Dade Animal Shelter had fun with that concept with these car decals. They’re way more creative than bumper stickers, and help bring positive attention to the shelter. With approximately 3.3 million dogs entering shelters every year, every little bit of promotional marketing helps in the long run.

Why it’s genius: Miami-Dade Animal Shelter are offering these decals on their website and are giving them for free to adopters when they get a new pet. These logo promotional items are sure to start a conversations and will hopefully bring more attention to the shelter.

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How You Can Try Promotional Marketing

You deserve cool promotional products that people will love. Aside from just selling it or giving it away at random, there are many other ways to make swag part of your marketing.

Here’s a recap from the examples above:

guerilla marketing graphic

Guerilla Marketing

Guerilla marketing allows your fans to be part of the brand-building efforts in a creative, unexpected way.

Timesuck made the most of their fandom with a few custom stickers and cool prizes that all went back to marketing the podcast. Meanwhile, JetBlue broke the ice with customers with their clever promotional campaign.

Pop up shop graphic

Pop Up Shops

A pop up shop puts a face to your brand name, but it’s all the merrier if you also bring promotional swag to the event.

LG capitalized on Bonnaroo’s popularity, while Google made their new voice service gadget known by giving them out for free and throwing in a few tasty donuts!    

trade show incentives graphic

Limited Time Offers

You can drive interest to your brand or store with clever promotional giveaways that are offered for a limited time at your store, trade show, or non-profit.

Every year, people are going to come back to the Chicago Auto Show and look for Ford’s Hot Wheels cars. Miami-Dade Animal Shelter is also using limited time offers as their decals were a one-time promotional effort created by an ad agency.   

social media like graphic

Social Media Contests

Your brand will get more followers if you offer cool promotional items as prizes in a social media contest

Poler and Birdhouse both created hype around their products on social media with the promise of free branded stuff.

target graphic

Promotional Gifts

Your promo items should be appealing to all walks of life and hit people right in the feels.

Cia Athletica targeted people who often fall off their fitness plans with creative promotional calendars. Coca-Cola brought fans together with their custom t-shirts, while Netflix made people laugh with their personalized socks.

envelope graphic

Direct Mailers

Mail out a few promotional gifts as part of a larger campaign, whether it’s to raise awareness about your cause or showcase a new product.

Earth Hour brought light to their worthwhile cause by mailing free candles to large corporations.

No matter what, you want your promotional items to be thoughtful and creative. It’s what makes your giveaways, and your brand as a whole, more memorable in the long run.   

Final Thoughts

You have plenty of ways you can use personalized promotional items to advertise your company. People love free things, but these items do so much more if they’re part of clever marketing campaigns.

It may be a digital world, but offline initiatives like scavenger hunts and pop up shops are what go viral and get attention. Be creative and advertising brilliance can come out of the deal!


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