Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

How Not to Use Promotional Products: Lessons from Tom Haverford of ‘Parks and Recreation’

I like a lot of television shows. Besides my undying love of Community, I’m also quite fond of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Even though it took a season to find its feet, the show is, in my opinion, one of the best comedies on TV.

But before I devolve into a love letter to the show’s creators, I’m actually here to share how Parks and Recreation has touched many of us here at Quality Logo Products®. We didn’t provide their promotional products like we did for the Office (Though give us a call next time, prop department. We’ll hook you up!), but promo items definitely made a showing in this season’s premiere.

Rubix Cube

All the cool kids use promo items.

For those of you that don’t follow the show, Aziz Ansari plays a character named Tom Haverford. Tom recently quit the parks department to join an entertainment company called Entertainment 720. Like all small businesses just starting out, Entertainment 720 needs to build a client base and brand recognition. And how do they decide to do that? By handing out Entertainment 720 swag.

While I applaud Entertainment 720 for the smart use of promo items, their execution falls a little short. From Tom’s mistakes, you can learn what not to do with your promotional products.

Do not hand out items that are harmful to your clients or their property. This should be a no brainer, but apparently Tom Haverford decided that client property came second to his promo items. He imprinted his personal business card onto a magnet, which is a fantastic way to spice up your business card, but he also chose a magnet so powerful that it would destroy credit cards. Considering that many of your clients will tuck your business card magnet into their wallets, it’s not wise to repay them with wiping out their credit cards.

Hockey Jersey

Hockey jerseys might not the best promo item to give to your friends when you’re first starting out.

Do not frivolously give expensive promotional items to your current brand advocates. By all means, give your current customers gifts like an imprinted pen or stress ball as a thank you. But do not mimic Tom Haverford and give your friends products like umbrellas or hockey jerseys. Your friends will already recommend your company to others, so you should be using your big ticket items to sway potential clients and see a tangible return in your investment.

Do not spread your resources too thin. Budgets are always important, but never more so than when you’re just starting out. While promotional products should be a part of your marketing budget, it’s better to start with one or two kinds of items.

On the season premiere, Tom passed out over seven different imprinted items. So not only did he have to order minimum quantities of all those items, but he also had to pay seven different setup charges and pay extra to imprint in three colors per item. Tom’s looking at a multiple thousand dollar price tag instead of a couple hundred.

Mouse Pad

Mouse pads are a great way to start expanding your brand!

I will concede that Tom didn’t completely screw up. He did do one thing right.

When it comes down to picking the perfect promotional product, you can lean one of two ways. You can 1) pick a product that is universally used or 2) pick a product that caters to a specific group of potential customers. In Tom Haverford’s case, he did both.

One of the first promotional items he tosses around the parks department office is an imprinted mouse pad. Just about everyone uses mouse pads, so Tom made a great choice in picking a high retention item.

He also gives his former coworker, Donna, an imprinted bikini. While you couldn’t hand out something like that to everyone, Tom knows that it will be a hit with Donna. Considering that he’s trying to promote an edgier entertainment company, this might be just the right product to score the clients he wants.

Do you watch NBC’s Parks and Recreation? Any other tips you can add on how NOT to use promo items?



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. Cybernetic SAM

    Haha! The Entertainment 720 fireplace bellow was awesome! I wish we had those!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I know, right? Even if they didn’t use it correctly, they do have some awesome swag.

  2. Rachel

    This episode was so hilarious! I love how Andy thought E720 just made promo products, haha. And that E720 website you link to is amazingly ridiculous. I think I would legitimately be happy to get that spiral notebook. “Where dreams come to come true!”

    You share some great points here about the use of promo products. I think the episode demonstrates another good tip, which is that you need a valuable product behind your promo items and other marketing materials, or else what’s the point? E720 can’t make any money because it doesn’t really do anything–which is clearly the joke the episode is making, but is also an important thing to remember as a small business owner. You have to actually offer a good product or service to make money.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I would be legitimately happy to receive any of those promo products…well, save for the underwear. But the Rubix cube? The water bottle? That awesome notebook? Bring it on!

      Thanks for bringing up that point, Rachel! Entertainment 720 is clearly trying to bank on the one success event they did last year/season. Just by looking at their “investor information” panel on their website, they expect their business to boom without making any sort of plans or business goals.

  3. Jill Tooley

    Awesome points and takeaways, Mandy! It was smart of Tom to turn to promotional items to market Entertainment 720, but I agree that he could have used them more effectively. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to A) the selection of products he customized or B) the people he chose to distribute them to. Fireplace bellows, underwear, and bras may be out-of-the-ordinary giveaways but they won’t do much good if you give them to potential clients who have no use for them! Promo items are nothing without a good strategy to back them up; they won’t do much good if you pass out random products to random people.

    What does a girl have to do to get a free Rubik’s Cube with Tom Haverford’s face on it?!? Those are too funny!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Tom’s use of promo items seems to mirror the entire Entertainment 720 business model: Great ideas, tiny execution, no plans. If he had taken a little time to form a strategy, he and Jean-Ralphio could’ve really maximized their promo items and marketing dollars. And then, you know, had more money to pay the models they keep around the office.

    And I don’t know, but I’m willing to go to Pawnee to find out. 🙂

  5. amy

    Great post Mandy! I love Parks & Rec and am glad they found their footing. Their first two seasons were a little rocky, so I stopped watching during the third season and fell in love with it in the middle of last season (I’m pretty sure I’m the type of viewer stations love, right? ;))

    My biggest advice for Entertainment 720 would be to know their customer base and choose promo products based on their likes and dislikes. Yes, those hockey jerseys looked awesome, but if you aren’t trying to attract hockey fans why bother? They should use shot glasses (like these to best attract their clients. Plus, I’m sure Tom still has a few bottles of Snake Juice still around to use up 😉

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Hey, at least you came back and are giving them ratings now!

      A shot glass is a fantastic promo product for Entertainment 720, and honestly, I’m kind of shocked that a shot glass ISN’T in their promotional lineup. It seems like a natural fit for them.

  6. Bret Bonnet

    This guy cracks my sh*t up! 🙂

  7. Joseph Giorgi

    Great post, Mandy! 🙂 Your takeaways are spot-on. You’re right: expensive promotional items (like jerseys and whatnot) probably aren’t the best way to start out. Best to start with the inexpensive ones (key fobs, USB ports, mouse pads, etc.) and work your way up from there.

    I’m not the biggest “Parks and Rec” fan, but I’ve got to admire Tom’s overall use of promo products here. He’s got the right idea, but like you said, he needs to work on his execution. I love his slogan too: “Where dreams come to come true” — that’s pretty clever, actually.

  8. Philip F. Lewis

    I am starting a business, and it sounds that some points here is very perfect for a starter. I’m liking the idea, I will use the strategy hope this comes great.

    Thanks for sharing. well done
    Phil 🙂

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