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Hard Facts and Data

When marketers fall into a blue funk over missed sales goals, maybe the doctor should be prescribing promotional products instead of Wellbutrin. Sure, the link between the industry's products and mental health may be a stretch, but PPAI's latest research indicates there's nothing tenuous about how promotional items influence customers.

Last summer, LJ Market Research, based in Irving, Texas, orchestrated an extensive series of interviews of passengers and other visitors at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Engaging an audience primarily of businesspeople, the researchers elicited the attitudes and behavior of consumers toward promotional products and distributors' end-users who gave them the items. The study reprises earlier investigations (some also executed at airports) and is the latest attempt by the PPAI Marketing Information & Research Committee to solidify the evidence that promotional products work.

Interviewers asked more than 500 airport visitors-travelers and others-a series of questions to determine how and why they received promotional products, how often they used them, how long they kept the items and what impact the items had in establishing a positive connection with the advertisers. Interviewees participating in the study were those who had one or more promotional products in their possession (meaning on their persons, at home, at their workplace or in their vehicles) that they had received in the previous 12 months. Naturally, almost all adults approached were able to identify at least one item meeting these criteria.

Many questions related to the promotional products that respondents mentioned first, which most frequently was a wearable. This is not surprising since this product category accounts for almost a third of all distributor sales. The second and third-most-mentioned items, respectively, were writing instruments and office/desk/business accessories. This sequence also coincides with the industry's product category rankings.

First Items Mentioned Frequency Percentage
Apparel 93 17.4 %
Writing Instruments 77 14.4 %
Desk/Office/Business Accessories 62 11.6 %
Sporting Goods/Leisure Products/Travel Accessories 43 8.0 %
Housewares/Tools 42 7.8 %
Calendars 38 7.1 %

Categories aside, the single item most frequently mentioned by respondents was a pen; next in order were calendars and headwear. Some popular promotional items such as pocketknives, letter openers, box cutters and pipe reamers were conspicuous by their absence. Blame it on those picky-picky TSA airport screeners charged with keeping the friendly skies friendly.

The DFW Airport Study produced two major accomplishments. First, the data obtained bolstered the findings of earlier research, most of which was secured from much smaller population samples. Second, it affirmed distributors' claims about the effectiveness of promotional products, which can now be based on fact rather than wishful thinking.

For example, one of the touted strengths of imprinted promotional merchandise is the ability to install the advertiser in the customer's memory bank. The report of the DFW Study states, "Consider the paradox that gives advertisers fits: Viewers, listeners and readers rave about the ad presentation-but when asked, they can't remember the sponsor's name."

This issue is minimized when promotional products are the medium of choice. When asked, slightly more than three-fourths (76.1 percent) of the respondents in the DFW Study correctly recalled the advertiser's name or message on the promotional item they mentioned first as having in their possession. (The advertiser enjoying the best recall was State Farm Insurance-with all imprints appearing on calendars.)

Particularly impressive is that 76.1-percent stat when compared to other print media. The airport subjects were also asked if they had read a newspaper or magazine in the previous week. Sure, said 80 percent of the respondents. But when asked to identify two advertisers appearing in the publication they remembered best, only 25.3 percent could do it, and 53.5 percent could recall only a single advertiser. You have to admit, the 76.1 percent-within-a-year versus 53.5 percent-within-a-week statistic is downright annoying if you're paying $103,000 for a non-bleed, four-color full page in Business Week.

The remarkable recall findings for promotional products are most likely attributable to another set of industry assumptions involving exposure-that recipients tend to keep promotional items for a long time and use them frequently.

As the researchers stated, "More often than not, end users try to pick promotional products that are likely to be kept and used a long time. None of this blink-and-it's-gone exposure that so limits the advertising effectiveness of some other media." Six out of 10 respondents at DFW (see Table 2) said they generally keep promotional products up to two years. And the main reason they keep them-so said 75.4 percent of the airport subjects-is they find the items useful.

Retention Period Frequency Percentage
Up to two years 322 60.5 %
Depends on the item 205 38.5 %
Until item wears out 5 1.0%
Total 532 100%

The absence of utilitarian value is the most likely reason that 19 percent of the respondents said they never use the first-mentioned item they had received. But the four-fifths majority that did use the item tended to do so frequently. More than a third said they used the item at least once a day!

The study also explored the ability of promotional products to influence buyer attitudes and willingness to do business with the advertiser. People prefer to do business with people they know and like-now that's an axiom fundamental to the concept of promotional products. So, the research findings pointing to the effectiveness of promotional products as a change agent of opinion do not come as much of a surprise.

• Nearly three-fourths of the respondents said they were familiar with the advertiser before they received their first-mentioned item. Most were already customers.
• Almost half of the respondents claimed their impression of the advertiser was either "somewhat" or "significantly" more favorable after they had received the item (see Table 3).

Impression Number Percent
Significantly more favorable 116 21.9 %
Somewhat more favorable 160 30.2 %
Neutral 250 47.3 %
DK/NA 3 0.6 %
Total 529 100.0 %

• Of the respondents who had never done business with the advertiser, about half claimed they were either "somewhat more likely" or "significantly more likely" to do business with the organization in the future (see Table 4).

Prospects For Future Business Frequency Percentage
Significantly more likely 36 16.4 %
Somewhat more likely 67 30.6 %
Neutral 102 46.6 %
Somewhat less likely 2 0.9 %
DK/NA 12 5.5 %
Total 219 100.0 %

Unlike previous exposure-driven attitude/behavior studies, the DFW research measured the attributes of promotional items in the industry's top three product sales categories: wearables, writing instruments and desk/office/business accessories. These categories account for almost half of distributors' dollar volume as reported in the PPAI Annual Estimate of Distributor Sales.

Product category data secured at DFW helps shed light on questions such as these:
• Which products are most likely to produce the highest recall of advertisers' identity? If you answered wearables, you'd be consistent with what was learned from DFW respondents. Some of those walking billboards are hard to forget.
• Which items do consumers keep the longest? That would be wearables, too.
• Which products are likely to be used most frequently? No contest-writing instruments. Nearly six out of 10 respondents claimed they write with their pens, pencils and markers at least once a day.

Data such as these can help distributors make judgments keyed to product strengths.

For the enterprising distributor, the DFW data amasses some major throw weight to explode prospect skepticism about the merits of using promotional products to achieve marketing and motivational objectives.

Jo Wagner, who has reviewed the DFW data, agrees. "Yes," says the team manager for Dallas distributor Cal-Joy Concepts Inc. (UPIC: CALJOY), "clients want to know their return on investment, and in marketing it can often be a challenge. Stating high recall percentages for name and brand lets my clients know their messages are being heard and are top of mind with their target audience."

It's time, then, to marshal some application tools:

• Brochures and envelope stuffers
• PowerPoint presentations to local business audiences emphasizing that integrated marketing campaigns are only half measures if integration doesn't include promotional products
• Presentation folders coupling research highlights with a plan to address a specific client's needs

"I think customers would respond well to statistics in a table format that's easily readable, concentrating on the highlights," opines Wagner. "Our industry needs to present these statistics to our clients whose budgets have tightened in recent years."

Data for the research reported in Promotional Products: Impact, Exposure And Influence was obtained by LJ Market Research, based in Irving, Texas, through intercepts of travelers and visitors at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. PPAI-sponsored research tends to favor airport settings because they offer desired geographical representation of the U.S. population.

Interviewers administered a 22-question survey to subjects after qualifying them as having at least one promotional product in their possession (on their persons, at home, at work or in their vehicles) that they had received in the past 12 months. Respondents were given a verbal definition and shown a photo of representative promotional products. Although they were asked to list up to four promotional products they had in their possession, respondents were told most of their answers would relate to the first item they mentioned.

The report of this study is based on 536 completed surveys secured by interviewers.

Reprinted with permission of Promotional Products Association International