A History of Custom Promotional Products

A History of Custom Promotional Products

Promotional items have been around longer than you think -- a lot longer.

Rick Cundiff

If you operate a business, nonprofit group, school, medical facility, club or just about any other organization today, you recognize the importance of marketing and promotion. Your brand image is a key part of your success.

At TJM Promos, our role is to provide you with the custom products you need to promote that brand. You’re familiar with that role. But how much do you know about the origins of marketing and promotion? Did you know a producer of fish sauce in ancient Pompeii branded the fish sauce he sold in 35 BCE?

The roots of marketing and branding go back even further than that. Let’s take a look at the history of this important process.

In the Beginning

Marketing has been part of our lives virtually since the beginning of human existence. The first person to offer a product or service in exchange for something of value was, in essence, a marketer.

Records show that artisans who hand-crafted pottery and textiles marked their work as early as 2,700 BCE. Later, as mass production of commodity items such as textiles and alcohol became more common, clay seals became a way to identify producers.

In an era when few were literate, pictograms often became a way to identify the contents of bottles or other packaging, where an item was made and even who made it. These were basically the first logos.

Public markets became more common in the Middle Ages. These gave farmers, potters, weavers and others a place to offer their wares. Many of these markets were originally temporary, operating from tables or stalls only on certain days. As cities began to grow, many such markets evolved into permanent shops at fixed locations.

The Industrial Revolution

Before the mid-1700s, artisans crafted products mostly by hand, limiting the availability to the production capabilities of the individual. The Industrial Revolution, which began with the mechanization of spinning and weaving processes, began the rapid expansion of mass production worldwide.

As more products came to market, producers needed a way to differentiate their products from their competitors. Branding became even more important. Sellers also developed techniques such as in-store demonstrations, flashy showrooms and even catalogs by the late 18th century.

The 1800s and Early 1900s

By the 1800s, advertising became common, on signs and in newspapers. That brought a new dimension to marketing. Expanded rail transportation made it easier to ship goods long distances. It became important to make consumers aware of differentiation between products and services from different sellers.

That also led to the first reported “spam” message – an advertisement for a local dentist, sent by telegram, to a London resident. Best of all, Spam (the food) wasn’t invented for another 73 years. So you could say spam existed before Spam!

As new products were invented, and more companies began to compete in various fields, advertising took on a new importance. Many companies introduced multiple product lines, ranging from economy to standard to deluxe, with increasing features up the line.

What About Promotional Products?

Promotional products have been part of commerce longer than you might think too. The first items considered promotional products were commemorative buttons produced for George Washington’s campaign in 1789. The popularity of those buttons prompted others to create more promotional items, including almanacs, calendars and even imprinted wooden rulers.

In 1887, an Ohio newspaper owner brought a new dimension to promo products. Jasper Meek published the Coshocton Age, a daily newspaper. Looking for a way to gain a competitive edge over the rival Democratic Standard, he had an idea.

Meek created and printed burlap book bags for schoolchildren to carry. Each bag bore the message “Read the Coshocton Age.” The printed bags proved so popular that other businesses soon wanted them printed with their own brands. Meek added more products and before long, founded the Tuscarora Advertising Company, specializing in printed promotional items.

Next, Meek’s rival, Democratic Standard publisher Henry Beach, got into the act. He started his own company, Standard Advertising, and the two men competed for some time. Eventually, they saw the benefits of cooperation and merged into a single company in 1901.

As the specialty advertising industry grew and promotional products became a fixture of daily life, manufacturers created a trade organization. Thus the Advertising Manufacturers Association was born. It still exists today as Promotional Products Association International, the largest trade group in the industry. By 1947, the industry reached sales of more than $100 million, and is today a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.

Broadcast Media vs. Promotional Products

You might think the introduction of radio in the 1920s, and later, television would have a negative impact on the value of promotional products. After all, radio and TV can reach lots of people and reach them quickly. Promotional items can’t possibly have the reach of broadcast media.

However, custom promotional products have some significant advantage. They put a brand or logo directly into the hands of consumers. Whether it’s a custom printed pen, a t-shirt, a baseball cap, an embroidered patch or other item, the consumer has it close at hand. Every time they use it, they’re reminded of the organization that provided it. Think about it – how many custom logo pens do you have right now?

Custom mugs, magnets and other such items keep your brand close to consumers. When they’re looking for a product or service, your brand is right there where they can’t miss it. That’s something neither television nor radio can do.

Another key advantage to promotional products is the cost. The barrier to entry for custom promo items is far lower than for radio or television advertising. And a low investment can yield big returns with the right mix of products.

Custom Products --An Effective Part of Any Marketing Mix.

Of course, in today’s competitive marketplace, no one medium can suit all advertising needs. The most effective way to reach consumers is by way of a mix of media, which can include any combination of print, billboards, radio, television, social media and websites, in addition to custom products. Any reputable provider of promotional products can help you find the most effective products to keep your brand or logo fresh in consumers’ minds.  





Rick Cundiff

Rick Cundiff

Content Director, Blogger

Rick Cundiff spent 15 years as a newspaper journalist before joining TJM Promos. He has been researching and writing about promotional products for more than 10 years. He believes in the Oxford comma, eradicating the word "utilize," and Santa Claus.