How many times have you been sent or given a promotional gift and looked at it thinking: “Well that’s very kind, but there’s no way I’m keeping that ugly item on my desk!”?

Thousands of pounds are wasted every year by marketing teams badly selecting promotional gifts for their customers and then compounding their mistake by instructing their promotions company to badge them up in a way that’s unattractive. William Morris’s advice to “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” still holds true for the home or the workplace. Nobody is going to use an item that they don’t like the look of.

In this two part blog post I’ll be discussing how to decide what to print on your new trade show giveaways or customer gifts, and, even more importantly, how to plan your design to extract every possible return on investment from what is essentially a blank canvas.


You will probably have already selected your item. You know you want to order some pens, or some mugs, or some coasters. Or, actually, considering the weather recently, perhaps umbrellas are a good idea.

Whatever you have selected, make sure that the amount of text you are planning to include is suitable for the product. Umbrellas have a large canvas size, but they are seen from such a distance, that huge amounts of detailed text are wasted. Much better to have a bold logo and a simple strapline, if appropriate. This will show up from miles away, even on a crowded train platform. If you have a relatively complex message to include on your item, why not opt for a mouse mat or a document wallet instead. Something like this can play host to more words and the message is clearly visible to your target audience.

Pens are really only suitable for a logo and possibly a web address. Mugs on the other hand are dynamite for messaging. A mug can take a logo, and most importantly a key sentence. This might be your corporate slogan, or, better still, you could even encapsulate your unique selling point, key selling features, or the launch of a new product on the side of a mug. For example, how about: ‘ The leading provider of widgets in the UK’ or ‘Over 1000 customers will tell you we are the best’.


There’s little point in investing in the perfectly branded giveaway for the task at hand, carefully selecting the words to be printed, and then doing such a bad job of designing the finished layout that nobody wants to look at it.

Always remember to think about the look of the item from the outsider’s perspective.

One of our customers completely changed the style of their coasters by commissioning a series of beautiful drawings of a bird. They now use these drawings on all of their printed items. This stunning image has transformed a simple coaster into a thing of beauty, and one which instantly brings the company to mind. The company’s customers are delighted to have these coasters protecting their desks because they are a really attractive item, with an integral value instead of just a logo on a bit of plastic.

In part two of this blog we’ll look at using product shape  as inspiration and how to keep it subtle.