Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

How Many Brand Impressions Do Promotional Products Actually Get? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Today’s businesses have seemingly unlimited ways to market themselves. Facebook ads. Google AdWords. Billboards. Super Bowl commercials. The question most marketers seem to be asking themselves is not just “What marketing method is right for this business?” but also “How much is it going to cost?” More than ever, marketers are concerned with getting eyes on their ads for the best price. Sure, you can boost an ad on Facebook for $5, but will anyone take the time to read it? More importantly, will anyone buy or use the product after seeing your ads?

When you’re looking for a cost-effective marketing idea that’s going to get your message or product in front of tons of customers, promotional products are a great way to enhance your marketing campaign. There’s a product that matches the personality of every brand – tens of thousands of products, in fact. Promotional products are a simple, affordable, and practical way to get your name out to prospective customers.

According to the Ad Specialty Institute (a marketing and education organization serving the promotional products industry), it’s hard to beat promotional products when it comes to cost per brand impression. Brand impressions are defined as any time an ad is viewed or seen. Every car insurance commercial you see during the 7 o’clock news is one brand impression.

Where TV and magazine ads both cost 1.8 cents per impression, ad specialties (promo products) cost an average of .6 cents per impression. Impression costs for social media depend on varying factors like how many followers an account has and how much a business spends to manage ads. So in some cases, social media or internet ads might cost less per impression, but one research study notes that the cost of CPMs – the cost per thousand impressions – is on the rise, from $3.17 in 2012 to a projected $6.64 in 2017.

Looking at data provided by the Nielsen Company, Outdoor Advertising Association of America, and Columbus Dispatch, we were able to see just how some promotional products stack up against other forms of advertising based on how many brand impressions one marketing dollar can get a company.


You read that right – bags get 1,000 impressions per $1 spent when billboards only get 500. That number drops down further as you go to TV, radio, and magazines.

ASI also notes that, “promotional products deliver the same or better ROI than most other forms of media, without the interruption inherent with other forms of advertising.” Customers can fast forward through commercials for shows they record to their DVR or take an alternative route that bypasses your billboard, but they can’t ignore your logo on a shirt or brand name printed on a pen they use at their desk every day.

So just which promotional products are getting the most bang for your buck? Some simple math shows how much it costs to get eyes on your brand. ASI defines the number of impressions a product can earn a brand by “multiplying how long a recipient has the product to how many people [the recipient] comes into contact with each month while using it.” In the U.S., bags generated the most impressions – almost 6,000! Bags show off your brand to a ton of people because they’re used both frequently and in high-traffic public places. Other high-impression items include anything that gets daily or regular use or wear, such as writing instruments, caps, outerwear, calendars, and shirts.


Here are some other ways that promotional products build more brand impressions than traditional advertising:

  • Promotional products are kept an average of seven months – that’s over half a year of continued use in people’s home and offices. Having a product that long means reinforced brand exposure over a good stretch of time.
  • Most people pass on their promotional products. In 2013, 63% of people reported giving promotional products to someone else when they no longer had a use for it. That means your brand’s message goes beyond the initial market.
  • Between items like pens, shirts, drinkware, magnets, and tote bags, the average consumer owns about ten different promotional products at a time.
  • 53% of recipients feel favorably towards an advertiser that gives out promo products, and 36% of people who receive promotional products reported they would likely do business with the company that gave them the items.

If your brand can’t afford a clever commercial campaign, or you’re just tired of not getting results with banner ads, promotional products can help you make a great impression. Because promotional products get shared and gifted and build goodwill with customers, they definitely get people talking about your business and products. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, so get your customers talking with a personalized promotional item that’s bound to boost your brand exposure!

What forms of advertising have you used before? Which one has been the most successful? Have you used promotional merchandise?

expand your brand


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. JPorretto

    What great info graphs! Of course, my favorite is the pac-man one. But other than that, nothing shows the impact better than big bubbles, pie charts, and the like. Sometimes people just need to see it visually before they truly understand the difference.

    Nice Post!

  2. Mandy K

    I totally would not have thought that tote bags would lead in brand impressions. Then again, the cost of a tote bag is significantly lower than the cost to rent a billboard.

    • Jana Quinn

      Also, how much brand information is someone getting from a billboard? Other than being an eyesore and traffic hazard, it also fails at getting sustained customer attention (unless it’s in a heavily congested area). However, if someone passes the same billboard every day, and it’s designed in a way to bring general awareness to a logo or brand name, it could be effective as repeated brand exposure.

      Although I don’t know how much I would like my brand being associated with bubbling road rage…

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    That’s a whole lot of Bubbas!

    Great infographics, Jana. You should definitely publish more posts like this. Infographics are hugely popular these days and are always fun to read/look at. 🙂

    Of all promo products, custom t-shirts would probably be the ones I see most often when I’m “out and about.” Then again, I see quite a few custom pens as well.

  4. Amy

    Holy Moly! I knew promotional items made an impact, but never to that extent! I always take notice of where my pen is from if they write really nicely/smoothly. And you can’t go wrong with t-shirts, if I had a dollar for every “free tshirt” I have I’d be rich. They’re great to work out in at the gym and talk about free advertising, right? Great post Jana!

  5. ASneed

    Nice post Jana! I like seeing information in this format once in a while….very neat, and colorful. That pacman is awesome!

    It does make sense that tote bags gain the most exposure, since people generally “tote” things around outside of their home. But I don’t think I notice bags as much as pens. It seems I’m always making notes about one thing or another. I think bumper stickers have a big impression–I always read them when I see them, but now days, it seems there are very few cars with bumper stickers.

    @Amy–Agreed! I always notice where a pen is from and if it writes nicely. I have always been a fan of Bic pens, and I always notice when a real cheap pen is handed out and it doesn’t write worth a darn…I throw it out asap. And I always think, they should have spent 10 more cents and got a Bic.

  6. LK

    I’m surprised promo drinkware doesn’t have more brand impressions. Maybe because not many people share their drinkware, but you see sport bottles at the gym, tumblers on the go, coffee cups at work and in other people’s homes. Plus, with the popularity of “I’m Not a Paper Cup” cups and “I’m Not a Plastic Cup” cups I feel like promo drinkware is even more common than before!

  7. admin

    HOLY CRAP! – you did an EXCELLENT job with these infographics Jana. I especially like the one demonstrating the REACH of promotional products.

    Is there any information offered in the study about brand recall?

    Impressions and the # of products owned is one thing; but what good is it if no one remembers the bank’s or dentist’s names once it’s all said and done?!?!

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks! It’s amazing what you can do with Microsoft Paint, a few hours, and a couple dozen expletives. ?

      As far as brand recall goes, the study DID look at that. However, it was so unscientific that I did not include it in the article. Respondents were basically asked if they could remember the brand, but there is nothing in the report to suggest they were tested in any real way.

      For what it’s worth, here are the results:

      -83% in the U.S. indicated they could identify the advertiser on a promotional item they own, very similar to 2008 (84%).
      -Britons feel they have the best memory, as 94% thought they could identify the advertiser on an item.
      -Glassware/ceramics (87%) and shirts (86%) have the highest recall.
      -Electronics/computer items have the lowest recall (31%), suggesting a need for better advertiser identification.

      The authors note that there were so few respondents for automotive and electronics/computer that the data should be considered with caution.

      There’s also an entire chart in the study that breaks down the “brand recall” product by product. Click on the link at the bottom of the article to check out the primary source for more info!

  8. Wim @ Sales Sells

    Hi Jana,

    The results didn’t really surprise me, but I’m a bit disappointed that the researchers didn’t include internet advertising (text, banner,…). I would love to know how they compare to the others in terms of brand impressions. Somehow I still believe that internet advertising provides the best bang for your buck.


    • Jana Quinn

      Wim, thanks for replying. The research does say that “internet” ads cost $0.003 per impression (falling right about in the middle of the different promotional products), but there was no operational definition of “internet,” so I did not include it.

      Does that mean banner ads? Direct email? Google search ads? Guest blogging?

      I can definitely see where you’re coming from with internet advertising being the best bang for your buck. The internet reaches a worldwide audience and advertising placement protocols are rapidly adapting to individuals’ browsing habits, making content more relevant to internet users. I can’t tell you how often I see ads for Chicago Rush tickets, and it’s probably due to the fact I have looked up the schedule and stats for the AFL several times. However, I have season tickets already, so it’s not like they’re getting any new customers by advertising to me; it’s a double-edged sword.

      There are some catches with internet advertising, though. First, they’re too similar to commercials or radio spots in their temporary life span. If you’re not paying attention, it’s gone. There’s no tangible item to check back with if you saw something you liked and maybe accidentally erased the email from your trash/spam folder or closed out the browser window too quickly.

      There are also websites where video ads that take over the screen can be closed immediately or – as it has been in the case of 3 websites I used to use – so intrusive and annoying that it has stopped me from using the site altogether: a negative consequence not only for the advertiser but also for the hosting site.

      Also, it is interesting to note that there’s no indication if the brand impression cost for the “internet” takes into account ad-blocking/pop-up killing software.

      What kind of internet advertising do you use? What have you found to be the most successful/give you the best return?

  9. Jill Tooley

    Jana, you’re officially an infographic master. Thanks for putting all of this information together. These graphics are much more exciting than scanning statistics! Promotional products rock! 🙂

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