What makes a bad promotional gift?

There are a few things we need to consider when thinking about what truly makes a bad promotional product, and the best way to think about about it is to think about what makes a good product.

What we want from a promotional product is memorability, brand recognition and a genuine love for the gift we give out. We want the receivers to actually like the products they get - they hang onto it for longer, are more likely to show it off to co-workers, friends and family. Sticking your brand name and logo on something unique and fun is what we want.

That being said, we have to keep in mind what the customer wants. People who want promotional gifts want something useful - and by useful, people want something that they want to pick up.

So, when we look at bad promo products, they need to fit a certain set of criteria: These products need to be bland, they need to be unimaginative, they need to essentially be boring, neither unique nor innovative. They are not tailored to your company or your clients.

These are just the worst.

The Pen

A controversial one to start off with but hear us out. The branded pen is just dreadful. It's the highest given out promotional product on the market (60% of businesses hand them out according to the bpma). Go to any convention yourself and you'll get at least a dozen pens. It might be cheap but you are not standing out from the crowd and basically giving away money. Yes, you might be lucky enough that your pen is the pen they start using everyday and they'll remember your name, but in terms of favourability, then the pen goes absolutely nowhere. I have never been swayed by a pen to go a company for work or buy their product. We fully think it's a useless investment unless these pens are given to your own team or are part of a promotional gift package - if you give it away with something else.

USB Stick

Back in 2004, this would have been a very good gift, but technology has evolved massively since then. USB sticks were always the best way to transfer large amounts of data from one piece of hardware to another. You might still use them for secure and confidential documents, but what with the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive, WeTransfer and more just like it, USB sticks are becoming a dated piece of technology. They're hardly being used daily even if they were still a staple part of your business.


Who uses pencils nowadays? It might be a good gift to a mainly artistic client who works with pencils but otherwise it's just dreadful. Unimaginative, useless, and worst of all, the more they're used, the quicker your gift disappears.


Something like branded cupcakes will draw a huge crowd when it comes to the trade shows, and that means you will have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people. One problem though is that some of the crowd might only be there for the food, but you might still convince more people than normal to come to your company for purchasing. There is a long-term issue though with branded cupcakes or similar, as they are eaten pretty quickly. For making the quick sale it's ideal, but if you are a B2B business, you run a risk or people forgetting your brand name unless you give them something else - brochures and similar. You do have to rely on your sales pitch and the effectiveness of your brochure though.

There are ways around this. If you are the likes of Monster or Warburtons bread, then they will remember that free can you gave them or that sweet bacon butty. They can then go to the store to buy them. Also, it might be an idea to hand something out that while the food is consumable, they hold onto the container. For example, if you hand out sports bottles, they can drink what's inside, but then keep the bottle for their own use later on. If you think creatively it is possible to turn food into a good promotional item.

How do I make sure I do not pick a bad promotional gift?

When planning for your next marketing campaign, it's important not to pick a bad promotional product to hand out. What you need to look for is the pitfalls of a gift. You need to see what the customer will need if your targeting a specific client. Relating to them is key. Choose something that people will pick up. Choose something fun. Choose something that draws attention - memorability is key.

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