The History of Promotional Products

For decades, promotional products have been a tried and true way for businesses to spread the word about their products and services. But over the course of those decades, some evolution was necessary. Since the first known use of a promotional item in 1789, this advertising tactic has grown and advanced over time to stay relevant and effective for all kinds of companies and organizations. Here’s a brief look at the history and major milestones of the promotional product industry.

The First Promotional Products

The first recorded instance of a printed promotional product in the United States was a commemorative button used to celebrate George Washington’s presidency in the election of 1789. That means campaign buttons have been around for centuries, since the very first U.S. president! But that was just the beginning. Soon, the United States discovered the full potential of promotional products by seeing them work first hand. In 1852 Anheuser-Busch created the first giveaways for the purposes of promoting a brand with custom corkscrews.

A few decades later, Jasper Meek, now coined the “father of promotional products,” realized he could make these advertising opportunities into a business of his own. He printed newspapers for a living, but he wanted another way to use his printing press during slow hours. So in 1886 he thought of printing advertising messages on burlap bags for a local shoe store. The effectiveness of this strategy was instantly obvious. Now, over 100 years later, nearly every retail business in the United States uses printed bags of some kind to advertise their business.

Promotional Product Organizations and Material Developments

The industry as we know it today truly started to form in 1904 when 12 manufacturers formed a trade association which is now known as PPAI (Promotional Products Association International). The manufacturers formed the organization in order to share valuable information that can help each business grow and thrive. PPAI was followed by ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute) in 1950, and now both organizations publish magazines which speak to promotional product businesses.

Another big development in the early 20th century: the invention of plastic, which really changed the game for promotional products. Plastic provides lower cost options that are more easily manufactured. While we take that ability for granted now, it was a huge development at the time. In fact, it introduced many of the most popular promotional items today. It also paved the way for other materials that are derivatives of plastic. For example, Polyurethane–developed in 1937–is now the material we use to make stress balls and other staple promotional products.

While promotional marketing took a hit during the Great Depression just like other industries, it quickly recovered as businesses pushed to get more eyes on their brand. And it only grew from there. By 1947, the industry recorded $124 million in sales! Corporations and organizations continue to advertise with promotional products simply because they work. It’s a form of marketing that consumers appreciate, and makes potential customers far more likely to remember your brand. Many popular promotional items have been staples in the industry since nearly the beginning, such as bags, keychains, pens, drinkware and more.

PrintGlobe Joins the Party

Our own Dan Steinborn founded PrintGlobe as a small graphic design and printing company in 1995 here in Austin, TX. In fact, it was originally called Corporate Communications of Austin. But as home computers and internet use became more wide-spread, PrintGlobe saw the need to allow shoppers to find everything they need at their home keyboards. We quickly became a one-stop-shop for all things printed, and in 2002 we changed with the times and moved our store to an online space. That’s when was born.

One of the reasons the promotional products industry became so successful over the years is that the trends and strategies change as things develop. And PrintGlobe always strives to do that too, not only with our online presence, but also with the types of products we offer. It’s our goal to stay aware of which products are up-and-coming in the promotional product world, whether it’s tech items or a popular color or material among certain products.

You can learn more about our history on our website, or shop around to find the perfect promotional product for your business. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, don’t worry! Our dedicated account managers are available to help you locate the perfect product. Give us a call or use our online chat function today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *