Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

How Do You Define a Promotional Product?

We have all heard of promotional products. We all know what promotional products are…or do we? According to the dictionary definition, “Promotional merchandise, promotional items, promotional products, promotional gifts, or advertising gifts are articles of merchandise that are branded with a logo and used in marketing and communication programs. They are given away to promote a company. Simple enough, right? It seems like a logical definition.

So where exactly do we draw the line between a “promotional product” and a simple product with a logo on it? Or can we actually draw a clear, definitive line? At first thought, we all know what a promotional product is. Most would say a pen or a pencil (or another freebie item) that has a logo on it and in some way promotes a specific company, organization, cause, etc. But is there more to the world of promo items?

Would you consider a Starbucks cup to be a promotional product?

Would you consider a Starbucks cup to be a promotional product?

Let’s take Starbucks for example. What is their product? They sell coffee (and other overpriced food, but for argument’s sake we will just say it is coffee). What does the coffee come in? A cup with their logo conveniently printed on it. Why does the cup have a logo on it? To PROMOTE. People buy the drinks, leave the store, and carry them around all in plain sight of other consumers they cross paths with – and it wouldn’t be surprising if other people took notice of the brand name as it was being carried. Does that make the paper cup a promotional product?


Is a Coke can a promotional product by definition? | Quality Logo Products

Is a Coke can a promotional product by definition?

What about a simple can of Coke? The product is Coke (the drink contained within the can) so what about the can? It is colorfully and clearly labeled with their logo to PROMOTE. The same scenario applies: People are inadvertently spreading brand awareness just by drinking a can of Coca-Cola. Does that make the can a promotional product?

Take the time to think about the previously mentioned definition before you answer the questions. If a “promotional product” is defined as an article of merchandise (with a logo) that’s used in advertising campaigns and given away to promote, then why wouldn’t a cup or a can TECHNICALLY be considered promotional products?

Now I’ll go back to my original question: Can we actually draw a definitive line between a promotional product and a regular product? I feel like we cannot have a generic definition for it without including products that we all know are not ACTUAL promotional products. Instead, I think the “definition” of promotional products is an abstract idea that we develop over time, through our experiences, giving us all the ability to decipher whether a product is simply that or whether it is a promotional product. However, I think it is nearly impossible to put this idea into words without including branded products!

Can you come up with a definition that is applicable to all situations and types of products? Or do you agree with me that we might have a definition but it is more of an idea?


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  1. QLP Jill

    Hmmm, you bring up some interesting and thought-provoking points in this post! Personally, I don’t feel that a soda can or a coffee cup would be a promotional product because it’s part of the package. Yes, it’s a PRODUCT that’s technically PROMOTING something, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a promotional product. It’s packaging that’s branded with a company logo, and there’s a difference there. Coke’s or Starbucks’ product wouldn’t work without the packaging, and I think that’s what separates the two from being in the promotional items category.

    However, you’ve presented your ideas quite well and I see what you mean about the fine line between a regular product and a promotional one. I know how riled up you can get about this – do you have any responses? 😉

  2. KB

    I agree with Jill. An item with your logo on it designed purely for the sake of promoting your service or business is a promotional PRODUCT. An item packaged with a logo on it for the sake of distributing the product inside is just good marketing. They are opposites really, it boils down to intent…whether the product (ie. pen or stress ball) is provided for the promotion of the company name printed on it or vice versa, if the name printed on the packaging is secondary to delivery of the product (ie. coffee or cola).

  3. Bear Grillz

    To define a promotional product, it must be broken down to it’s purpose and most crude form. A promotional product is, most simply put, a product intended for promotional purposes that is given away freely with no condition of purchase.

    We can all agree it’s obviously a product and that it’s used for promotional purposes. The thing that a lot of people don’t consider making part of the definition is that is must be given away with no condition of purchase. If it’s obtained only through condition of purchase then it’s just a product. To be a promotional product, it must be intended only for promotional uses, and therefor not directly profited from.


    Promotional Product – A product intended solely for promotional purposes and given freely without condition of purchase.

    Thus, a pop can or Starbucks cup is not a promotional product because it is only obtained through the condition that you purchase it along with the beverage that it contains.

    Let’s discuss membership cards. Places like Starbucks may have cards you can carry on you that they punch holes in after each purchase. After a certain number of punched holes, you receive a free beverage or something of the sort.

    This card may or may not be a promotional product. If it is only obtainable by making a purchase, then it is not a promotional product; however if the cards are stacked in a card-holder out in the open for anyone to take, then it is a promotional product.

  4. QLP Kid

    Can you tell I enjoy playing the Devil’s Advocate?

    -QLP Kid

    “It’s How the Midwest was Won…”

  5. Bear Grillz (AKA dvore)

    QLP Kid… Try to debate that definition! It’s what we in the industry call “perfection.”

  6. QLP Kid

    “Promotional Product – A product intended solely for promotional purposes and given freely without condition of purchase.”

    What happens when they give coffee away (in those awesome cups) for free at a community event? So is a promotional product situational?

    We cannot say that it solely depends on a purchase because then what happens when they give away products?

    …BOOM ROASTED! (-Michael Scott)

  7. McGruber

    I have to agree with QLP Kid on this one – there is no definitive definition for “promotional products”.

    While I agree MOST promotional products are “given away freely with no condition of purchase”; many people use CONTESTS and other means to distribute promotional products. So while $ may not be exchanging hands, some other form of interaction or “tender” does take place (signing up for a mailing list, etc.).

    Promotional products, like most forms of branding, are about the # of effective impressions the product or campaign can deliver or has on the company’s target audience. I’d argue that ANY TANGIBLE product, outside of magazines, online, or newspaper that contains the logo and contact information of a company IS a promotional product regardless. This would include coke cans all the way to Eiffel Tower replica shaped stress balls.

    Finally, according to the upcoming Impressions Study conducted by ASI, the average cost-per-impression of a promotional product is $0.005, providing a better ROI than most other advertising media.

    TAKE THAT! 🙂

    PS. This has to be a new world record for the # of times the word “promotional products” appears on ONE page/post! 🙂

  8. mark anderson

    A Promotional Product is any item that can be purchased from an entity, that is used for the purpose of promoting anything, event, concept or otherwise, with a customized decorated graphic or photo on that item whether that is sold or given away for any purpose desired.

    Thats it. nothing more. nothing less. This is in its simplest form. to say that a can of Coke is a promotional product is silly. A person cannot purchase a blank can of Coca Cola Brand, and decorate it for their own use.

    Starbucks cups are absolutely considered promotional products, because anyone can buy that exact same cup and decorate it.

  9. Dave Whalley

    Very informative article, thanks for sharing. Promotional products are cost effective marketing tool. Having your company name and logo printed on these items will surely boost brand awareness for your business. While customer’s constant use of these items guarantees a lot of exposure for your brand.

  10. Karri Deschine

    Well I almost agreed with Mark Anderson, up until the point where he did not do his homework about branding your own Coke. You can brand your own bottle of Coke, with your first name, last name, family logo.

    And you can do it with your Verizon Points. So you don’t even have to pay for it, so it is considered a promotional on the part of Verizon. A partnership so to say between to major companies. The same with their magazines and so forth.

    I think Marketing Promotionals is just that a very fine line Marketing/ Promotionals, but I do not think that whether they are free is a determinant. I think a reward or money is the end result for everyone. Whether it was purchased or given. It was given in hopes to educate, or to earn loyalty to business. Either way you cannot put a price on education or loyalty.
    One must think out of the box how the greats have built there businesses realizing, it was earning the loyalty of many people. That is not to forget they were promoting themselves and their companies , the entire journey. Which had its rich reward in the end, loyalty, education and success.

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