The Origin of the Promotional Products Industry

The History of Promotional Products...

For all of us involved in this industry Promotional Products are a standard part of our daily lives. We use them, speak about them and sell them every day of every week and most of us love them! However, do you know the history of this industry? When was the first promotional product produced and why?

Here is a brief insight into why this industry has been in existence for centuries and why it continues to play such an important role, on a global scale:

The first promotional product wasn’t a pen, a stress ball or a key ring. When George Washington became the first President of the newly formed United States of America in 1789, commemorative buttons were produced to celebrate the momentous occasion. So the first U.S. President was responsible for producing the first promotional product!

However, almost a century passed before anyone made a business out of promotional merchandise. That distinction went to a Ohio newspaper man named Jasper Meek. In 1886, Meek approached a local shoe store owner with an idea: instead of letting his printing machinery go idle between editions of the newspaper, Meek realised he could use it to print a message advertising the shoe store onto bags which would be given away with every shoe purchase. That way, he reasoned, when kids used the bags to carry their school books, they would also advertise the store. Does that sound like a familiar approach?

In fact it turned out to be a very popular approach. By 1904 representatives of 12 promotional products companies had gathered to form the PPAI, an American trade association which is still in existence today.

That is how this wonderful industry began but it wasn’t until the late 1950’s that corporate marketing, using promotional products, began in Britain. That was the beginning of this industry as we know it today.

However, this incredible advertising medium can be traced back even further than 1789. Babylonian Kings, around 300BC, would have their symbol, or brand, stamped into bricks that would be used in the construction of buildings. It was a way of telling people that “this building was built by...”

Later around 312AD, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great used coins & jewellery stamped with Christian symbols including a cross, to help promote the new, united, Christian state. This was a move away from paganism and was an historic declaration of the new faith so the Romans used a promotional medium to ensure this message reached the masses.And there’s more: business cards were used as far back as the 1600’s, and bookmarks were used as advertising giveaways during the 1800’s.

In the middle of the 19th century beer brewer, Adolphus Busch armed his travelling salesmen with branded corkscrews & pocketknives to promote his brewery and lager beers to owners of taverns. That obviously worked for them because today the Anheuser-Busch brewery produces global brands including Budweiser & Beck’s!

Hopefully this brief history has given you some idea of the important part promotional products have been playing in societies around the world for centuries. This might not be the biggest industry in the world but it’s certainly one of the oldest and, if the present day is anything to go by, it will continue to play a major part in promoting businesses and organisations of every size and nationality, for the foreseeable future and beyond.