History can teach us many lessons: pitfalls to avoid, repeatable successes, and cautionary tales. Unfortunately, many of us never take the time to review the past. History repeats itself and whether that’s good or bad has much to do with our knowledge of the past. What can we learn from the history of promotional products? The best promotional products fill a need, solve a problem, and are often cutting edge, new, and exciting.

Offer Something New and Exciting

The first documented example of a promotional product in America was in 1789, with the release of a commemorative button celebrating George Washington’s presidential election. At the time this was something new, different, and exciting. (I wonder what that button’s worth today?) What products are new and exciting in your industry?

Solve a Problem

Buttons, advertising calendars, and wooden products dominated the specialty market of the 19th century. Publications such as the Farmer’s Almanac also created and filled a niche. The true potential of promotional products wasn’t realized until the 20th century. Jason Freemont Meek was one of the early innovators. PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) shares this story. “Seeing a child drop her schoolbooks in the dirt on Main Street spurred Meek to approach his friend, Mr. Cantwell, owner of Cantwell Shoes, with an idea about building store traffic, name recognition and ultimately increasing sales.

Meek’s idea was to imprint a burlap book bag with a simple but direct advertising message, ‘Buy Cantwell Shoes.’ Cantwell would give every child who came into his shoe store a free bag. The children would carry the bag as they walked to and from school so Cantwell’s name would be seen all over town.”  He solved a problem. What problems can you solve with specialty products?

Learn What Works

Throughout the 20th century, more and more products were branded with company logos and slogans. The largest period of growth came in the 1970’s with the publication and distribution of specialty product catalogues. By the early 1980’s, these catalogues were wide-spread; eventually organizations—sporting teams, household brands, and entertainment groups catalogued exclusive branded merchandise. Today, organizations can offer website catalogues with merchandise from apparel to office equipment available to consumers with the click of a mouse.

Study History

We learned that innovation is a game winner. Whether it’s a commemorative button celebrating our first president’s election or 21st century state-of-the-art electronics—ahead of the crowd is good. We learned that the best offerings make life a little easier. Branding a simple burlap bag to carry books changed the industry. Who knows, maybe a sponsored downloadable ap will be the next game changer. And we learned to look for what worked and adapt it to modern conveniences like online catalogues. Innovative, problem-solving, and adapted products are lessons anyone who uses specialty products can take to the bank. If you’d like exciting new and useful promotional product ideas let us know. We have a history of helping folks find their promotional product niche.