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Promo University

10 Promotional Products Sure to Fail

Alyssa Mertes

Published: July 23rd, 2020

10 Worst Promotional Products of All Time

  1. Personal hygiene products
  2. "Guess Who" with baby pictures
  3. Items that stereotype
  4. Celebrate a variety of traditions
  5. Religious items
  6. Political items
  7. Dangerous objects
  8. Malfunctioning devices
  9. Disposable products
  10. Punny products
  11. Contradictory items

When it comes to promotional products, being funny is great. It draws attention to your brand and creates a positive connection between your customers and your company. After all, that's the goal! Still, there are boundaries that shouldn't be crossed.

Sometimes a promotional product that is supposed to be funny falls flat. So we are here to help you avoid embarrassing situations with this list of the worst promotional products of all time.

One Size Does NOT Fit All!

If you've been in a situation where a giveaway didn't have the reaction you were hoping for, fear not! It's not the end of the world, and you shouldn't give up on promotional products altogether.

Bubba circle

10) Personal Hygiene Products

Unless you're a dentist, doctor, or other medical professional, offering free personal hygiene products can backfire on you pretty quickly. Toothbrushes and hairbrushes are usually okay, but if you're planning on giving out items such as toilet paper or feminine hygiene products, you might want to rethink it. While the vulgarity may be appreciated by some people, most will simply find toilet humor to be a disgusting association. And you don't want that thought to pop into people's heads when they think of your brand.

Toilet Paper

9) Items that stereotype

Stereotypes are nearly always viewed negatively, mainly because they don't paint a specific demographic in a flattering light. For example, offering nail files and mirrors at a women's computer coding conference. The promotional product can have the best intentions, but that doesn't mean it's always a good idea. It might even poke fun at a demographic you or your company fits into, but it won't work for everyone. The point of promotional products and branding is to appeal to as many people as possible. When you alienate a portion of your customer base, you're headed in the wrong direction.


8) religious artifacts

This is similar to the stereotype one, but geared towards a very specific part of your potential client pool. Unless your company sells products or services geared specifically toward one faith, promotional products printed on religious items can leave any non-believers out of the target market. Churches and other religious groups should take some precaution when offering giveaways as well. Adding a cross or religious symbol to a giveaway might not have the desired effect. For example, giving out a Santa Claus stress ball with a cross on the back could be offensive to devout Christians because some people prefer not to mix religion with secular symbols.

The same can be said when you're looking to poke fun at different religions. A company logo on a Jesus statue may offend an entire demographic. When it comes to religion, many people leave no room for anything but reverence in their approach to these artifacts and may take deep offense to their use in anything but worship. In the interest of appeasing the masses, it is usually best to refrain from attempting to brand a company on anything of this nature.


7) Political Items

Like religion, politics is sacred ground for some groups. While you can probably get away with poking fun at politicians more than at religion, you still want to take some precautions. There are plenty of divisive issues in modern politics, but these are terrible associations for marketing campaigns. Think very carefully before choosing a side on any issue. Using a Richard Nixon bobble head to promote your criminal attorney practice might not have the desired effect you're going for. Half the population would probably get a chuckle, but it's a safe bet to assume many people would find that inappropriate.

Bubba Uncle Sam

6) Dangerous Objects

Companies constantly have products recalled due to some kind of malfunction—you don't want to be in that category (obviously). The saying might go "no press is bad press," but making the late night news because your company's giveaway hurt children or other people certainly won't help your business.

Promos attack

It's not always easy to determine if a product can cause someone harm. Obviously accidents happen, and you can't predict if a random fluke will hurt someone, but you can avoid giving out an item that has an inherent risk (i.e. handing out items with small pieces to young children). It's worth noting, Quality Logo Products is a member of the Quality Certification Alliance, and products with the QCA logo are made by suppliers whose facilities and manufacturing processes have met the alliance's standards for product safety.

Promos attack

5) Malfunctioning Devices

If your business chooses a product, brands it, and then finds out that it doesn't work or it annoys people, there's a chance the public will view your company as "irritating" and/or "unreliable." It is possible to inadvertently turn people off to a business by offering a promotional product that buzzes continuously, breaks, or refuses to work properly. Samples are available for most of the products we offer. If you are at all worried about the functionality of a product, we would encourage you to order a sample to test it out for yourself before giving it to your customers!

Broken heart

4) Disposable Products

As much as we would love to shove a Bubba in everyone's face, you can't force someone to keep your promotional product. Still, some products have a longer shelf life just based on their use. Pens have proven to be sustainable for brands, but imprinted candy (while delicious) is around only until the candies are eaten.

Chocolate and other candy can be a great giveaway in certain situations, but when a promotional product is destined for disposal, the name and message of that company is in jeopardy of being forgotten. Personalizing disposable items means that very shortly your business name will be hanging out with empty paper towel rolls. Unfortunately, the memory of that great business will be gone by trash day.


3) Punny Products

We love puns. If you've ever read some of our product descriptions, you know puns are what make our hearts keep beating. However, puns about promotional products can get a little confusing. Unless the message you're attempting to convey is very clear, it's best not to sacrifice your overall message and brand just to be clever. A bank that promotes its checking by offering a chicken stress ball would probably not get the intended response from its customers.

Bottom line, don't make people work too hard to understand what your product is supposed to be saying. It's not fun and most people simply aren't interested in investing the energy. It should be clear from the moment they get the product.

Rubber chicken

2) Anything in "Poor Taste"

Just like politics and religion, everyone has a different sense of humor. What some might find hilarious others will find repulsive. It can be a tricky line to walk because you're not trying to be offensive on purpose. However, the really offensive promotional product campaign ideas are typically easy to spot and avoid. For example, you probably wouldn't offer shot glasses at an event looking to raise awareness over the dangers of drunk driving.

Don't wait until a batch of promotional items has been shipped to gauge the audience's sense of humor. If you're questioning a product, it's a good idea to ask for an opinion from coworkers in your office, or maybe even some trusted clients. Offensive promotional products will be deemed as poor judgment on the part of the business, and it will eventually call into question whether or not the business can be trusted.


1) Contradictory Items

It can confuse people when your promotional item seems at odds with the purpose of the business. Again, promotional products are meant to build your brand and bring in more customers. It may not be the best idea to advertise a bakery on a logo gym bag or a driving school on drinking glasses. Many people could miss the irony and receive the wrong message.

Gym tan cupcakes
Bubba breaks it down

When selecting promotional products to advertise your business and improve branding, it's usually wise to stick to items that are durable, long lasting, and in line with the message your company wants to send. While some businesses are capable of building their reputation with an eye for the subversive, the majority of businesses are assured greater success by thinking less about cleverness and focusing more on durability and reliability.

Quality Logo Products are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!

4 random promtional products 4 random promotional products tablet
Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.