Industry Insight

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.