It’s an age-old debate: are promotional materials valuable or simply an expensive gimmick through which companies leak money?

Do you remember a few years ago when you would go to a trade fair or a conference and come back with carrier bags filled with those awful pom-poms with sticky feet and goggly eyes? The ones that your kids would stick all over their room? They are an example of bad promotional advertising. When used badly, promotional material is utterly useless. You would be better off investing in a flock of white doves, attaching your company name to them and setting them free in the hope that someone finds and captures one than buying a batch of those irritating, big-eyed, pom-poms. Really, they are that useless.

Promotional material is about providing your customers with a product which they can use and which will remain useful for a prolonged period of time. Let’s consider some facts about promotional material. Did you know, for example, that promotional pens have an average of around eight owners before they are discarded. That means that your company’s name will be seen by eight people for every one pen you distribute. On top of this, 39% of people who have received a promotional pen in the past six months can remember the company’s name. And finally, in a recent survey of people at JFK airport in the US, 71% of those surveyed reported having received a promotional item in the past twelve months and 33.7% of these people still had it on them. Perhaps most tellingly, 76.1% of these people could remember the name of the company on the promotional item, whereas only 53.5% could name the name of a specific company advertisement in a newspaper or magazine they had seen in a newspaper in the last week. The results are beginning to add up, right? People like getting promotional pens, people use promotional pens and, as long as they are durable, promotional pens will remain in circulation for a long time.

So every-time the user picks up the pen and uses they will remember your name. Every time someone else uses that pen, they too will remember your company’s name. No, not quite. Unfortunately for marketers and manufacturers of promotional pens, they do not quite have that amount of power. They can, however, have a lot of power, but only if they are designed and distributed correctly.

So, you have decided that you are going to invest in a batch of promotional pens, but now you need to decide what information should be included on them. The space available to you on a pen is very limited, and you do not want to clutter it up with needless information which makes the pen look like a mess. The more content you want to include, the smaller the text is going to have to be. It is important to remember that other forms of advertising and promotional materials allow greater space to provide information. Promotional pens are not intended to tell the user everything about the company, but are instead meant to act as both a hook and a reminder. They should be viewed as a way of ensuring that the user ends up enquiring further about the company. A website address is therefore a crucial piece of information to include. Time and again, companies include their telephone number needlessly; someone in possession of a pen is unlikely to want to ring up and speak to someone about exactly what it is that they can offer them. Providing a website allows the user to explore the company’s services at their own leisure. The company logo and website is enough content to include on a simple pen.

It is important to also consider what type of pen to purchase. Pens come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Cheap, plastic pens are great to give away at fairs and conferences, but for valued customers a more upmarket pen might be an influential purpose. High quality promotional pens are likely to be viewed favourably by executive types. However, this could mean that they treasure rather than pass on the pen, thus limiting the influence of the pen.

Finally, it is important to consider how many promotional pens to buy. Buying as many as possible in order to get the best value for money can seem like an attractive proposition to small business owners, but it is not necessarily the wisest option. Promotional pens might be cheap but they do cost money and thus the worst scenario is one where pens are being wasted on family members and friends of the company. Similarly, growing businesses might be considering a rebrand in the future and thus it would be a waste of money to be stuck with thousands of pens covered in an outdated logo.

A few years ago, promotional material lost its way and became perceived as a mere gimmick. Nowadays, companies seem to have more sense and are targeting specific users and groups of customers with specific materials such as promotional pens. With users statistically being able to recall the names present on them, promotional pens have proved to be a durable and influential form of marketing for companies. They do, however, cost money and despite the low cost per pen, it is important to consider the quantity they are bought in and, more importantly, what content should be present on them. If you are indecisive, remember you could always go for the wide-eyed pom-pom characters instead. Your children will love them.