Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Future of Promotional Products

We started ecoimprints.com and the sustainable swag blog to bring a fresh perspective to promotional products and marketing. Our mission is to open minds, to provide news on alternative promotional products, and to offer a greener approach that helps inspire positive change. We see a very different future ahead for the promotional marketing space. The sooner it comes, the better.

We've been involved in the promotional industry on some level for more than 15 years. It's a mature, crowded and largely old school niche that is driven by commissioned sales. There is no doubt that promotional merchandise has helped companies effectively build brands for generations, and there are many good and dedicated people involved in the business. However, the practice has clearly had a detrimental effect on the environment. It's contributed to our throw-away culture and populated the planet with lots of cheap petroleum-based stuff that we don't really need.

There are rumblings within the industry about "going green." While there is still some reluctance to stray from the old ways of doing things, we believe the negative impacts of this form of marketing will eventually be turned around to help mainstream greener products, attitudes and consumption patterns.

Here are a few predictions for positive change ahead:

•Traditional promotional sellers who peddle products on price and through printed catalogs will become increasingly irrelevant. The internet and younger web-savvy buyers will continue to change the game, making the industry more efficient and competitive.

•Some large parts of the industry will actually shrink. There will be less virgin plastic stuff sold across the board, and wasteful giveaways will become a thing of the past. The focus will be on practical and useful goods that leave a relatively light environmental imprint.

•The global sustainability movement and pressure from consumers, employees and investors will force more positive change. Economic self-interest will also play a role. Businesses will be required to operate more responsibly and efficiently. Promotional waste will not be tolerated.

•The "'cradle to cradle" lifecycle of a product will be more scrutinized. There will be more emphasis on the total environmental impact and carbon footprint a promotional product has -- from its materials and design, the way it's manufactured, the distance it must be shipped, the length of its usefulness, and the way it is disposed.

•The scandal of toxic toys and consumer goods imported from China and California's Prop 65 are just the beginning. The alarming effects of the chemicals we're exposed to on a daily basis will be better known and publicized. More domestic and global standards will be created to assure that products are made safer and with less negative impact on the environment and on humans.

The future of promotional products will look a lot less plastic, and a lot more green.