Corporate Trinkets: A Waste, and a Waste of Money

mousepad.gifHow many mousepads do you need? This eco.psfk post got me thinking about what a massive waste most corporate gifts are. The bags of schmaltz from thousands of conventions a year that get hurled into the landfill beg the question – isn’t there a better way to express appreciation to clients? There are plenty of branded items that companies could give away without creating a massive waste stream – unique things that people don’t already have, or food perhaps, or maybe something more intangible like a mid-convention massage?
Environmental issues aside, does this kind of marketing really work anyway? The Sunday Times says: “At best, corporate freebies are a waste of money – at worst, they can appear tacky and unprofessional.” I’ve even received gifts (an inane talking pedometer that didn’t work for example) that made be curse the name of the gift giver and, riddled with unwelcome guilt, hurl the item into the trash.

That said, companies wouldn’t give away junk if somewhere, back in the annals of old-school marketing, it hadn’t been proven to be effective. The only problem is that everyone already has a mousepad, coffee thermos, funky pen, key chain, USB-drive and pretty much everything else. More of the same is not only wasteful, it’s annoying.
So, if giveaways can be effective, what are some better strategies to make sure the gift is well received and not a burden on the potential client? has some conventional tips that focus on being selective about what is given out at trade shows, and to whom it is given. That’s a great start, but more generic recognition of existing clients can be harder. If something unique that will definitely be used can’t be thought up, then it seems safer to go for the more intangible route.
At the very least, companies ought to think very hard about what they give away – make sure it’s sustainable, thoughtful, and actually useful. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to feel better about NOT having more junk you’ll never use. Your clients will thank you!

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

One response

  1. As a recipient of some of this stuff, I agree. I seem to get a lot of pens – pens that look very impressive but don’t write very well. This seems deeply symbolic of modern corporate dysfunction. All surface, no usefulness. I’d appreciate a pen that wrote very well.
    For a while my company was giving away luggage tags – tags that were metal (so they’d trigger every airport security device) and that were bordered in such a way that they’d cover up the company name on our own business cards. Give me more of that.
    I like some of the suggestions in the post. I’d add the following: a real technical white paper that taught me something. Something I’d use at the show but not need to take home. A free recharge of my laptop battery? How about bringing in a chamber music group to play for us? There must be a lot of useful things better than pens and notepads.

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