Corporate Promotional Items: Best in Show

Mug Shots

Corporate promotional items that Skunkworks has received this year

Skunkworks is no stranger to corporate promotional items (CPIs): the branded objects that are routinely handed out at conferences, professional development seminars and other corporate events. From USB drives to ski suits, this post explores the best in branded consumer goods.

From SWAG to CPIs

The term SWAG is an acronym for “Stuff We All Get.” SWAG, however, is a rather low-end term because it lacks exclusivity. How good can an item be if we all get it? (see Promosapien for a short history of Swag).

CPI is a broader term that covers merchandise provided exclusively to clients, key partners, or employees.

Like all other forms of advertising, there are “best practices” when it comes to CPI use. Google’s CPIs – which are relatively functional and high quality – are examples of good CPI practice. Over the last year Skunkworks has been provided with Google water bottles, backpacks, stuffed animals, coffee mugs, and Moleskin diaries. While it’s difficult to avoid Google in the virtual environment, their brand has possibly become even more ubiquitous at Casa Skunkworks.

Product Quality

A mistake that companies tend to make when investing a portion of their marketing dollars into CPIs is favoring high-volume low-end products over better quality items. We’re always surprised when certain brands are willing to put their logo on questionable products that will likely be fast-tracked to the local landfill. If you’re going to brand a pen, choose a good pen (this means you Deloitte).

Obviously some companies believe that producing a high number of cheap branded products is effective because it allows them to reach the highest volume of potential clients at the lowest cost. This strategy is good in theory, as the paramount goal of companies looking to extend their brand recognition is often the creation of pervasive brand awareness. However, putting your label on a poor-quality product is rarely a good idea. Placing your logo on a product creates an association with the quality of function or image of that product. If the product looks cheap, doesn’t work well from the outset, breaks or ceases to function after only a few uses (or is covered in lead paint), then it may damage your brand. Branded flashlights with toxic batteries are among the worst offenders.


While some CPIs are timeless (e.g. pens), the lack of corporate imagination lends itself to more trends than a Paris runway. The latest CPI trends have been reusable shopping bags (so 2010) and USB drives (useful but their popularity led to a glut). The problem with these trends is that many companies end-up with stockpiles of old CPIs. We’ve seen more than one tech company with cases full of mouse pads and stress balls. Mind you, during an economic downturn those stress balls will likely come in handy.

Promotional Product Branding Services

CPIs should be functional (i.e., useful to your target market) and consistent with your company’s brand. Useful CPIs will be kept around longer thereby extending the life of your brand awareness campaign. Additionally, high-end brands should pursue high-end promotional products. This puts our clients (mostly professional services firms) in the higher-end CPI market. Where possible, companies should also tie CPIs to the philosophy of the firm. If the company is committed to environmental causes, this message should be consistent in their promotional products (reusable thermoses: yes, LED yo-yos: no). However, CPIs need not relate to the company’s products or services. A high tech company is often well served by traditionally low-tech CPIs (see Google above).

Promotional Product and Corporate Apparel Services

While many manufacturers, including local bottle maker Innate, offer custom printing or etching on their products, most CPIs are sold through corporate branding intermediaries. There are a number of retailers – online and off – that specialize in the production of CPIs. Our local favorites are currently Genumark and Promosapian. Often the intermediaries will offer “research” services to canvass the availability of different options within a category of CPI. This is very useful if you have an idea of what you want but don’t know where to source it. From poker chips to custom fire extinguishers, these companies can make it happen. As you might imagine, pricing tends to be based on volume.

Skunkworks’ Top Corporate Promotional Items (The Best of SWAG)

  1. Moleskine Diaries. The notebook of Picasso and Hemmingway makes for swag worth keeping. While scrap paper pads pile-up, an embossed Moleskine diary will always be kept in a prominent location.
  2. Lululemon Yoga Mats. We had a client buy yoga mats branded by Promosapien for a “women lawyers” event. With every downward dog, the brand was guaranteed to be front and center.
  3. Shiru Vacuum Container manufactured by Innate. We like both soup and reusable food containers. We don’t like BPA. This is a promotional product that will long outlast competing products.
  4. Branded Arcteyx Ski Suits. The award for most extravagant law firm corporate apparel goes to McCarthy Tetrault LLP and their embroidered Arcteryx ski suits. I’ve only seen these once or twice (in Whistler), but I can only imagine that they weren’t handed-out like plastic pens. It makes me wonder why more companies don’t write-off cool clothes for staff.
  5. Branded Booze. Once upon a time in Corporate Canada (or so I’m told), professional services firms would white label wine or spirits and provide these gifts to their clients. A national firm might buy-up an entire vintage from a winery (often a client) for this sole purpose. The only issue, as above, was ensuring quality. Giving away a bottle of untested port has the potential to make both the “best of” and the “worst of” lists.


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