The question on everyone’s lips right now has to be – what form will the commemorative merchandise to celebrate the nuptials of Prince Harry and the lady from Suits take in this digital age? Is branded merchandise as dead as Diana?
Branded merchandise is often seen as an expensive, pointless, showy thing for a business to do. Who wants mints, mugs and golf balls. Aren’t they terribly naff?
Well I’m sorry, but I quite like them. Especially when they show a little imagination and are useful. If you align them closely to your brand personality or campaign, they can provide a talking point and make you extremely memorable.
My formula for merch that works is: useful + high quality + imaginative = yeah baby
- Stick of rock – I get it, you’re ‘fill in the blank’ through and through, but I’m not going to eat it and it’ll just gather dust
- Shoehorn – ok, your service is bespoke, you won’t force me into anything off-the-shelf, but my shoes go on fine without this
- Stress balls – just no
Useful and high quality
- Those pound coin things for supermarket trollies
- Matches that burn
- Post-it notes that stick
Useful, high quality and imaginative
- Transparent brolly – you’ll protect clients and you’re open and authentic
- Sunglasses at recruitment fair – your company is going places
- Scraper for frost on car window – you’ll help people see things clearly
It’s the things that help us when we’re in a pickle, that we’ll thank the brand for, that work best I think. If they’re also visible and likely to get people talking – as in the brolly – then boom.
BUT if the matches don’t light and the scraper scratches the windscreen, I’ll probably think less of the brand for luring me in with the promise of help from something that looked good and failed, than if I had nothing at all. I’m bound to see it as a metaphor for your product or service.
But back to Diana
My first experience of branded merch is seared on my memory and I think, accounts in many ways for my otherwise inexplicable obsession with Diana, Princess of Wales.
I promise you I’m not a Daily Mail obsessive, I don’t have Diana commemorative plates lining my walls and I’ve only dressed up as her once.
Rather, her wedding to Charles the Idiot in July 1981 sealed the deal for me. And here’s why:
I was 5. Everyone had the day off school. We were given Diana and Charles branded travel sweets (and sweets were otherwise banned). There were commemorative jam spoons, bone china thimbles and special coins. But that’s not all.
To top it off my parents at the time had an ice cream shop and bought a specially created BLUE ice cream that tasted of a cross between Pepsi and Smurfs. My brother and I were allowed a previously unheard of double scoop.
I mean, come on.
Famously Diana joked about calling the whole thing off when wedding jitters got too much – on the day of her wedding. Her sister’s repost was “It’s too late now, your face is on the tea towels”.
That, my friends, is the power of the marketing merch. The whole thing had been set in motion. It was bigger than her. It existed in crockery and pointless domestic items. She had to see it through.
And bravo for her for doing so.
It gave us proles a little bit of the occasion to hold onto, to wipe our plates with, to drink tea out of, and darn socks with. Forget the fact that those thimbles are now on Ebay for £1.99.
Very much in the same way as my Adam Ant nail varnish gave me a little piece of that swashbuckling young gun to fixate on when I was 5 and a bit too shy to be buying his records.
(Side note: These things both happened in 1981 – a big year for me.)
So what can this teach us, other than indulge my memories of the Peoples’ Princess and the real Prince Charming? (They would have made a dreamy couple.)
Nothing much really, other than while these days branded giveaways might be seen as dead as a dodo or the last resort when there are so much other free media at our fingertips, it’s worth considering the cut-through potential, and that it doesn’t have to be boring pens and mints.
Although I find a good pack of mints extremely enjoyable. (Not perhaps on the same level as a double cone of blue ice cream in 1981, but then nothing has really matched that year for me, before or since). But enough about me.
What are your favourite giveaways you’ve collected over the years, and which do you still use? I’m sure there are some cult items out there.
Main image: Chris Lawton