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Face Masks Are The New Pens


Promotional items. They're everywhere. Take a look inside an ad agency office (or better yet, the agency kitchen) and you'll spot logos on mugs, office supplies, tote bags, sports bottles, calendars ... you name it. Over the years, we've recommended our fair share of them to clients. Favorites include magnetic desk toys, stress bulls, first aid kits, puzzle boxes, an oversized green stamp pad and a giant stamp (for printing money), and tee shirts that read, "I paid big bucks for web analytics and all I got was this lousy tee shirt."

Whatever you call them: specialty items, executive gifts, tchotchkes, ... their purposes are the same: to get and keep your brand in front of your customers or prospects; to make them appreciate you; to open the door for a sales call; to gain "real estate" in their office and their mind.

The industry is always evolving, innovating new giveaways based on what is top of mind for the audience. In the 90s and early 00s, we focused on technology accessories, like mouse pads; dial-up adapters; even monitor rearview mirrors (so you could see who was sneaking up on you). As we moved into the twenty-first century, we saw a boom in mobile phone gadgets: imprinted cases; earbuds; holders and stands. Then, as people became more conscious (and conscientious) about environmental issues, we were inundated with cloth shopping bags; recycled notebooks; and reusable straws.

And now? We have Covid-19. The marketing specialty industry was (as per usual) quick to shift gears and produce exactly what people want. And, the pandemic has definitely changed what people want.

According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, here are the top promotional item search terms for 2019:

  1. Pens
  2. Water bottles
  3. Sunglasses
  4. Golf
  5. Tote bags
  6. Tumblers
  7. Lanyards
  8. Pop sockets
  9. Umbrellas
  10. Koozies

Just compare those to the top 2020 search terms:

  1. Face Masks
  2. Hand Sanitizers
  3. Bandanas
  4. Masks
  5. N95
  6. Neck Gaiter
  7. Thermometer
  8. Mugs
  9. Pens
  10. Face Shields

Yes, face masks are the new pens. Customized masks have increased 56,741%. Yow.

And, virtually everyone is getting in on the act.

According to a recent Ad Age article, big brands like the NFL Disney, Hershey, Nike, and Gap have all started manufacturing masks. In many cases, proceeds from their sales have been contributed to Coronavirus relief efforts, which is a win-win (or maybe a win-win-win). Money for an important cause, feel-good publicity for the brand, and you get to have Daisy Duck — or Darth Vader — on your mask.

After all, if there's anyone who understands the power of a mask, it's Darth Vader.




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