There's an organization called PPAI, or the Promotional Product Association International. It's a trade association within the promotional products industry that provides networking events, classes and certifications, and other useful information.
According to PPAI, the first promotional product ever used was not a pen, not a stress ball, but a simple button. When George Washington became the first president of the newly formed United States in 1789, commemorative buttons were produced to celebrate the occasion. First president, first promotional product - Washington, you trailblazer, you!
Taking Care of Promo Business
However, PPAI also notes that nearly a century passed before anyone made a business out of promotional merchandise. It was in 1886 that an Ohio newspaper man named Jasper Meek approached a local shoe store owner with an idea: instead of letting his printing press go idle between editions of the paper, Meek would use it to print a message advertising the store onto bags, which could be given away with every shoe purchase. That way, when kids used the bags to carry their school books, they'd also advertise the store. Sound like a familiar approach?
Objects de Promotion
It's true; most of the development of the promotional products industry occurred during the 1800s, for reasons that will be discussed later. However, for as long as humans have been able to craft, create, and communicate, they've been able to advertise using objects. History has some outstanding examples:
Clay bricks and tablets were essential to the buildings of the Babylonians around 3000 BC, and when a ruler had his own personal symbol-or brand-stamped into one, it pretty much had the effect of showing the ruler's ownership of that building. Fortunately for all of us, promotional products have gotten a lot more portable since then.
Coins and jewelry. Late into the Roman Empire-312 AD, to be exact-the emperor Constantine the Great bid farewell to fragmented paganism and declared that the empire would be united as Christians. To spread the word, silversmiths and metalsmiths began incorporating Christian symbolism, such as the cross and the Chi-Rho monogram, into their jewelry and coins.
Advertising, like scientific thought, really took off thanks to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1438 and its immeasurable contribution to the spread of ideas. However, as you know, flyers and signs aren't the same as promotional products. They don't have any other use in and of themselves.
Business cards became popular in Europe during the 1600s, but they pose the same problem as flyers: they serve no purpose except to promote the names printed on them. (If only they'd had business card magnets back then!) It wasn't until the mid-18th and 19th centuries, when the Industrial Revolution took hold, that promotional products finally became popular.
You Say You Want a Revolution...
You know that printing press mentioned above? It might not have been directly responsible for the creation of promotional products, but it definitely contributed to the rise of promotional products.
The mass printing of books made it possible for ideas and innovations in technology to spread to people more quickly than ever before. It's the reason why the invention of the printing press is considered one of the main causes of the Industrial Revolution.
Handmade is so Last Century
The Industrial Revolution saw society create even more machines to handle tasks that had previously been done by hand, or refine existing machines (the sewing machine got an upgrade in 1830). It's as if society was suddenly filled with Gutenbergs, and they all had knowledge of how to use power sources like steam and coal to work enormous contraptions that could produce goods and components of goods on an unprecedented scale.
How to Win Manufacturing and Influence Brands
There were two especially big consequences of the Industrial Revolution. The first was the new, increased capacity for production led to the rise of the manufacturer, a company responsible strictly for making products. The second was the emergence of multiple manufacturers, which led to the need to establish a brand. Companies had the opportunity to market their services and products and stand out from the crowd!
The Rise of the Promos
And those consequences made the 1800s a ripe time not only for advertising in general to flourish, but also for promotional products to catch the eye. With the world's increased manufacturing capabilities, companies didn't have to stick solely to print ads to tell the world about their wares.
So what products were among those that were used widely in advertising in 19th century society? It certainly wasn't all about bags, though oddly enough, a lot of the examples also begin with a "B":
B-b-bring on the Promos!
Bookmarks: Chromolithography, a printing process refined in the middle of the 1800s, allowed printers to reproduce illustrations in glorious color. Advertisers took advantage of this process, and of the Victorian world's interest in reading, by producing full-color bookmarks as free giveaways to promote everything from insurance to perfumes to stoves.
Buttons: The use of buttons to spread messages didn't stop with Washington. In fact, Abraham Lincoln's presidency helped establish the use of political buttons still in use today.
Beyond politics, though, buttons of the 19th century also were used to communicate more personal messages. Manufacturers used their newfound resources to create button molds that depicted tussie-mussies, which are essentially small bouquets that include flowers and plants chosen for their meaning (rosemary for remembrance, that kind of thing). Not only did fashionable, gardening-obsessed Victorians exchange these bouquets; they also wore buttons depicting them and shared their meanings with each other.
Bobbleheads: While the earliest reference to a bobblehead toy dates back to 1842, the earliest reference found to one used for promotional purposes dates back to the 1920s, when a New York Knicks bobblehead was produced. Who knew those toys were part of such a long-standing promotional tradition?
Corkscrews: Adolphus Busch, the beer brewer who in the second part of the 19th century developed what we know today as the Anheuser-Busch company, pioneered a lot more than lager. When the company's traveling salesmen went out into taverns to sell Busch's products, he sent them with branded items to give to customers. A corkscrew was one popular item; another was a branded pocketknife, which established a fine tradition that we contribute to today at Quality Logo Products.
As industres grew, more promotional products became popular. Stress relievers were developed after polyurethane was first synthesized in 1937, in response to the demand for a rubber substitute during World War II. As technology matures and evolves, even more products will surely be created!
Amazingly enough, promotional products are older than the car! Today, there are thousands of different promotional products for you to choose from, all thanks to the innovation that's forever been a part of human society. Who knows what the future has in store for this exciting industry?