The 5 Biggest Problems with Promotional Products

  • May 3, 2024

by Samantha Sage

Custom branded promotional products are essentials in any marketer's toolkit - they are instrumental in getting your brand into new hands, and keeping your logo front of mind as a solution to real world client needs. Sourcing the most effective promotional products can be the difference between campaign success and marketing failure. However, anyone who has tried shopping for the best promotional products for their brand needs and budget will have run into some common problems that plague the industry and create headaches for shoppers.


Have you ever thought you found the perfect unique promotional product idea, only to realize you have to order a massive quantity of units to start?


Have you been shopping for custom swag with low order minimums and finding nothing - or worse, only finding super boring swag options that everyone else already has?


Ever found great swag at an awesome price, only to be put through endless hoops when trying to actually place your order? 


In this blog filled with promotional products industry knowledge accumulated over our 65+ years of experience, we'll cover the 5 most common questions that buyers have when searching for where to buy promotional products for their business:


  1. Why are Promotional Products So Expensive?
  2. Why are Promotional Products So Bad?
  3. Why are Promotional Products So Official and Boring?
  4. Why are Promotional Products So Hard to Order?
  5. Why are Promotional Products So Bad for the Environment?


If you've struggled with these common swag shopping pitfalls and could use some helpful pointers, you've landed in the right place. Read on for our top promotional product shopping tips:


Problem #1 - Why are Promotional Products So Expensive?



Promotional campaign costs are one of the largest portions of any marketing budget. Custom swag and merch have been shown to be an effective use of marketing dollars by getting your brand name exposure and recognition - but they also cost a substantial amount of money to design, produce, and ship. This high price tag can lead some marketers to believe custom swag is too expensive for their small business budgets. We're happy to report that this doesn't have to be true!  

The average cost of promotional products will of course vary based on the item type, manufacturing quality, decoration type, and quantity ordered. A dedicated promotional products sourcing specialist will show you good, better, and best options to find the swag options that meet your needs and deliver awesome results without breaking your budget. They can also help set your expectations reasonably for what is possible. 

For example, finding inexpensive promotional products with no minimum order quantity will be a challenge, as short runs of products still require set-up costs and the need to run a full process for only 1 item will drive up the unit cost much more than buying promos in bulk.

That said, if you need a small order of promotional products for a raffle, event, or employee gifts, we offer many options with minimum order quantities of 1 to get you started! 

To get your promotional products at the lowest price available, it is still best to buy in bulk whenever possible - reach out for custom quotes if you need a higher quantity order than what's shown on the promotional products vendor's website, as a customer service rep can often save you extra money on your custom merch with a special quote! At MARCO Ideas Unlimited, we specialize in wholesale promotional products for resellers looking to create their own branded merch, so don't hesitate to email our swag reps for custom pricing options to get you extra margin on your merch to help your business succeed. 

It's also always a good idea to shop early for your swag needs, as this will save you on expedited freight costs that come with rush orders. Many manufacturers run discounts on seasonally-relevant promotional products before the rush time sets in to get you the trendiest, most relevant swag options at reduced expense. Subscribe to our newsletter to get notified about special offers, seasonal deals, new swag item releases and more

If you're hunting for promotional products for cheap, then you've definitely run into the second biggest problem in sourcing quality custom merchandise...


Problem #2 - Why are Promotional Products So Bad?



If you've ever received low-quality, easily broken swag items from events, you've likely asked yourself, "Why are promotional products so cheaply made? Who would want to promote their brand with swag that feels and looks so bad? Do promotional products like this even work?" 

The truth is, the promotional products industry has gotten a bad reputation for producing useless, wasteful junk. Poorly made promotional products and marketing campaigns focused on volume rather than value contribute to this bad reputation. If you're only hunting for swag based on the lowest cost, you're guaranteed to find items made with quick and dirty production - meaning wasteful and potentially unethical processes, starting materials that are bad for the environment and our health, and final promo products with no R&D to prove that they work and withstand breakage.

Many low cost promotional products are truly terrible for the environment and can leach toxic chemicals into their surroundings, painting your brand in a negative light with contributions to plastic waste accumulation, water pollution & waste, and single-use items that end up in the landfill with your logo on it. Working with an experienced swag sourcing representative with connections to quality vendors, and who personally tests the products themselves, is a great way to avoid the pitfalls of poorly made, useless swag items. 

A trustworthy promotional products rep will also offer samples of items to allow you to personally review the quality and function before purchase - no one wants to pay for custom imprinted goods just to find that the final product feels cheap, looks shoddy, or doesn't work as intended. At MARCO Ideas Unlimited, our Portland, Oregon area showroom stocks a huge sleection of classic ad tredny swag items for you to review in person. Not a Portland local business? We can have samples shipped directly to you for quality review before we proceed to virtual mock-ups for logo placement and brand guideline adherance. Our team is here every step of the way to ensure that your custom merchandise exceeds your expectations. 

Our blog is also a gold mine of industry knowledge to help you avoid bad promotional product purchases. To get our promo experts' top recommended and trendiest promotional product choices sent directly to your inbox, subscribe to the MARCO Ideas Unlimited newsletter for updates twice a month (and no more - we guarantee no spam emails or inbox clutter from us, ever!)


Problem #3 - Why are Promotional Products So Official and Boring?



Boring pens, mostly blank notepads, simple logos on white ceramic mugs - why is it that the most common promotional products are also so uninspiring? 

We've found that the most effective swag ideas are those that draw attention, create intrigue, and make your brand memorable. Even outright weird promotional items can sometimes be incredibly effective as disrupters in busy marketing spaces. Creating fun themed promos for events, like branded crab claw crackers for seafood boils or custom city-themed enamel pins for regional tradeshows, can create intrigue and desire that keeps your promotional products out of the landfill and in the hands of customers, showing your logo off for years to come.

That doesn't mean your brand can't leverage the most common promotional office products like pens and sticky note pads with great effect. With some creative art help from an experienced swag creation specialist, the most popular swag options can get a modern and exciting re-vamp to create unexpected intrigue!

Our swag specialists keep their finger on the pulse of the industry, always ready to recommend the newest, most unique, and next-to-trend promotional products to set your brand apart. We're always ready to lend a hand at updating your logo or art to the most cutting-edge decoration methods on drinkware, hats and caps, and any style of apparel you can imagine. 

Each month, our email newsletter features the most unique, next-to-trend swag ideas to help your promos stand apart from the sea of other swag at tradeshows. We'll showcase unique decoration tricks and ideas that have worked for our existing clients recently. Subscribe today to be the first to know about the coolest promo items and become a thought leader for your clients!


Problem #4 - Why are Promotional Products So Hard to Order?



If you're new to ordering custom swag for a business, it can feel like you have to jump through a million hoops to get your products made. The order and art requirements for custom promotional products can be confusing and hard to manage for your marketing team. Dealing with high order minimums to get your custom swag made, high decoration set-up fees driving up unit costs, and all the details that go into protecting your logo's appearance and brand standards on your final imprint can be too much to handle by yourself. 

When you're searching for where to buy promotional products, consider saving yourself time and headaches by working with a promotional products sourcing professional who can manage these things for you, instead of a click-and-ship swag site that can be prone to order and imprint errors. 

A custom swag shopper like our experienced reps will do the work to find you custom swag options that fit your needs, like swag with low to no minimum, no set-up fees, or quick turnaround times. A swag specialist will always provide free mock-ups of your logo on your item selection, guaranteed logo protection to ensure your brand lock-ups are replicated perfectly, and careful PMS color matching to meet your brand guidelines as closely as possible on each order.

If you need promotional products with rush turnaround, we have thousands of options available for 24-72 hour printing and rush production timelines with expedited shipping to get you the swag you need, when you need it.

Simply shoot us an email whenever you need new swag ideas, or subscribe to our email newsletter to get fresh ideas each month to help lead your searches. Then the rest of the hard work is up to our swag specialists, who will find the best options for your promotional products needs and budget while handling every step of the order themselves - from virtual mock-ups to ensure your logo imprinting meets expectations, to simple order approval and submission, collecting payment up front or on terms for well-credited businesses, proofing with the manufacturer to ensure your final print job matches your initial virtual mock-ups, and final shipment to your office or event - on-time, and with as few logistic headaches as possible for you. Taking care of your brand and your precious time is our business!



Problem #5 - Why are Promotional Products So Bad for the Environment?



As we alluded to earlier, the promotional products industry has earned a bad reputation for mass producing lots of plastic products, generating waste, using non-sustainable production practices, and potential exploitation of workers in unethical warehouses to meet production demands. Historically, sustainable swag options were hard to come by, and prohibitively expensive for most businesses who wanted to do better for the environment - but simply couldn't afford the price tag of eco-friendly merch.  

Thankfully, the swag industry has realized the power we have to solve these problems at the source, and more focus than ever is being placed on producing eco-minded promos with less wasteful production processes and sustainable base material sourcing. Searching for greener swag solutions will help ensure your custom promos aren't harming the environment, or even worse, being discarded and ending up in the landfill. Luckily for you, you've landed at MARCO Ideas Unlimited, and eco-friendly swag ideas are our specialty! 

On our Eco-Friendly Swag Ideas page, you'll find a wealth of resources to select eco-minded swag that gives back to a wide range of conservation and environmental action groups - including the following short list: One Tree Planted, 1% For The Planet, FSC-Certified Goods, The Ocean Cleanup, Jane Goodall Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Trust, Save Elephants Foundation, and many more.

If you're interested in eco-friendly swag swaps to replace your current promo items, we have greener alternatives to the most popular promotional products like pens, shirts, and drinkware - all made with more sustainable materials and eco-friendly production methods with less environmental impact. We always source the most sustainable promotional products from manufacturers nearest to your shipping address to minimize your order's carbon footprint through transit emissions, and stimulate local economies in the USA. 

We're proud to stock a huge selection of USA-made promotional products, as well as union-produced options and locally-decorated custom goods.

From eco-friendly swag bags and totes to sustainably-produced apparel, we can help you customize it all for your brand. Our bi-weekly newsletter frequently features eco-friendly swag alternative ideas to get your green marketing juices flowing - sign up today to take the guesswork out of where to find the best promotional products for the environment and your brand!


Final Thoughts

Now that we've covered the most common issues with custom swag orders and item quality, we hope you feel more empowered to shop online for your custom merch needs with confidence that your swag will turn out looking good. However, if you still need more help, or don't want to deal with the hassle of sorting through online promo sites, our swag specialists are ready to take your brand's marketing to the next level - tell us what's not working with your current marketing and swag campaigns, and we'll supply new item recommendations that our 65+ years of promotional products experience tells us will turn your promo problems into solutions! 

Contact the customer service team at MARCO Ideas Unlimited for custom swag suggestions to give your brand the edge at your next trade show or networking event. 



Samantha Sage is the Marketing Coordinator & Sales Assistant for MARCO Ideas Unlimited. Sam leverages her years of multi-industry marketing experience to help businesses grow their brands with quality promotional products. When Sam isn't researching new & unique swag options, you can find her in the Oregon woods with her husband & senior rescue dog. 

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