cover image

Goldman Sachs: Guilty of Sexist Promo Items or Just Missing the Boat?

You have a trade show coming up and you want the best giveaway item to not only attract visitors but also be memorable enough that after they leave, your item makes a positive impression on them, right?

When starting out on your promotional product selection process, there are two paths you can take:

1) You can see what your budget is and order a selection of items to ensure there’s something for every personality to pick up and use for years after your event

2) You can order one item that you think your recipient would enjoy based solely on your understanding of who you think they are

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs took the latter route for ordering promotional products for Harvard’s Women Engineers Code, or WECode. In addition to giving out T-shirts and key chains at the event they were also distributing nail files and mirrors at the all-women audience.

I’m sure Goldman Sachs didn’t intend to give off the impression that women only care about their appearance and therefore only want freebie items that reflect that, i.e. keeping their nails trimmed and make-up flawless, but that’s how some are reading the situation.

woman putting on lipstick

Vladimir Gendelman, Founder and CEO of Company Folders, brings up a curious point, “[The] #1 rule of marketing is to give your target audience exactly what they would like, and if you are attending [an] event for women interested in computer science, it only makes sense to give them a feminine product that they are most likely to keep.” This is a mindset that some companies have regarding their selection of promo items. It’s not “wrong” but does leave an unsavory taste in some people’s mouths.

Gendelman went on and said, “To take it a step further, these are also very effective giveaways since people keep them around and always see your logo when using them.” This statement is why it’s so important to give out customized items that your visitors will appreciate receiving. The more times they use your item, the more times they’ll see your company’s name or logo to remind them to come back and visit you. Would receiving a custom nail file at a technology event sway you to work with that company in the future?

Custom nail files and promotional mirrors are great items, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not items that would get me running to visit their booth, especially at a computer coding conference. I can’t see anyone flocking to pick up their free nail file and mirror if other companies are giving out industry-specific promotional items that will make their jobs easier.

This last point is one that I feel hasn’t really been addressed at all. Why would a Fortune 500 company like Goldman Sachs choose such mainstream promotional products to give out? Why wouldn’t they want to put their best foot forward and give out some unique and incredibly functional promotional products to attract visitors to their booth at the convention?

shrugging guy

We’ll put the touchy Goldman Sachs issue on the back burner (for now). How should you select promotional products for your upcoming event you know the audience will be primarily women? You can go with your gut (which seems to be what Goldman Sachs did) and just order something in pink or you can ask one of QLP’s sales team members for some suggestions.

What items should Goldman Sachs have ordered and what items would be perfect for your all-woman conference? I wondered what a handful of our sales team members here would suggest. I didn’t tell them about the Goldman Sachs story because I wanted their honest responses and not be swayed into only offering gender-neutral items. I asked them for 1-3 product ideas given this information:

  • Event: Women Engineering Coding Conference
  • Audience: Only Women
  • How many attending: 300-500
  • Budget: $5,000

What did our mix of male and female sales reps suggest? Here are their ideas (**Spoiler Alert** – Their suggestions make infinitely more sense for a Fortune 500 company to give out):

Image Map


As you can see from their suggestions, your customized item can be functional without offending anyone. Plus, they have a lifespan that can easily be incorporated into your customers’ lives without much fuss. Who wouldn’t want a convenient place to put their cell phone while at work? Or who hasn’t needed to charge their tablet after binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones’ on their commute to work? Pretty sure it isn’t just women who deal with that struggle. I mean, it’s no index fingernail crying out to be filed, but still annoying nonetheless.

It’s important to remember that visitors to your trade show or convention booth aren’t one-dimensional and have a unique personality and interests. Yes, women and men can be interested in having neatly trimmed nails but at a technology convention, wouldn’t you want your custom stylus to be used on a daily basis, instead of maybe being used weekly like a nail file? I think we know which item has the highest ROI and I know you do, too.

Goldman Sachs missed the boat on their promotional items, but you can learn from their very public taboo and order up amazing promo items for your event. Our sales team members are the best in the industry (c’mon, just look at the awesome items they suggested for a fictional client!) and you can be sure if you voice your concerns they’ll listen and make sure every visitor to your booth loves your customized items.

What do you think about this “controversy”? Do you think there is one or are people making a mountain out of a mole hill? Are you a man who’d love to receive a nail file or a woman who’d love to receive a beer stein? Share your thoughts and opinions with me in the comment section below!

Expand Your Brand!

“Shrugging Man” photo credit to: David Castillo Dominici at

Amy Hoidas

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ Community Manager. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on


  1. Julie Mussared

    Great post Amy. 🙂
    One of the great things about the 10 promo items suggested is you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to hand these out! 😀
    I think everyone was super hard on Goldman Sachs because we tend to hold Fortune 500 companies to a higher standard.
    If I were in charge of their marketing I would have given out the Hub Dude. When you love computers as much as a coder does, you know you’ll have about a million USB devices to plug in!

  2. Sheila Johnson

    What I found really interesting about this situation was that, according to an article I read, the conference organizers actually told sponsors to come up with items for the goody bags that they thought would appeal to women. What a vague instruction, and what an, erm, interesting way to interpret it, Goldman Sachs.

    I love seeing the sales team’s suggestions, though! Nice article!

  3. Serenity

    I am not a huge fan of gender or age product assumption. As soon as I hit 25, I started receiving wedding catalogs and expectant mother samples and catalogs. As someone who is not in a place for either of those things I was actually pretty upset that the assumption based on my age and gender that they felt the need to send these things. Whereas I would prefer had I been either a bride to be or an expectant mother I would have sought them out. You know what they say when you assume! 🙂 Great Post!

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2003 - 2016 Quality Logo Products, Inc., Registration No. TX7-524-201. All Rights Reserved.