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Pets for Presidents and Personal Branding Stickers Showcased at PPAI

This year's PPAI, North America's largest trade event for the promotional products industry, showed an innovation-hungry sector that was in rude health, with reported growth last year well in excess of that for the US economy overall.

Photo: Liquid assets: Building a bigger brand via premium personalised beverage receptacles.
Liquid assets: Building a bigger brand via premium personalised beverage receptacles.
Photo: Liquid assets: Building a bigger brand via premium personalised beverage receptacles.
Liquid assets: Building a bigger brand via premium personalised beverage receptacles.

Bright signage, loud music and a fine display of creative products, all deemed suitable to be commercial ambassadors, welcomed attendees to the PPAI Expo 2020, North America's largest trade show for the promotional products industry. For those not too preoccupied with selecting the perfect triple-walled tumbler or best-in-show Bluetooth speakers, there was the chance to pet puppies, share a selfie with a Ninja or even to catch up on their goat yoga.

This year's theme – Advertising You Can Feel – was a none too subtle reference to the fact that, unlike digital and other forms of advertising, promotional products are tangible and, hopefully, leave a lasting impression. Expanding on the event's chosen motif, PPAI President Paul Bellantone said: "Such impressions last a long time and can play a key role in building relationships."

In support of his assertion, he noted that the promotional products industry is expanding faster than the US economy, with growth of 7% recorded for last year. His optimistic mood also extended across the showfloor, which was never less than busy as a host of brand reps keenly sought out relationship-building products.

Gaming and High Tech

Just two years ago, it was most unlikely that you would come across a pair of high-end headsets at this particular show. Now, though, with online gaming on the rise across the world, they're among the most prized products, at least according to Alex Vernon, the Marketing Manager of Hirsch Gift, a Texas-based promotional products company that had added Astro headsets and Logitech gaming mousepads to its 2020 line-up.

Explaining the company's thinking, he said: "The impact gaming is having on promotional products is huge and we're hoping to capture some of that market. Instead of creating or importing our own products, though, we have opted to partner with existing brands that understand the core gaming demographic. Gamers are their fans already and will clearly value a premium item that they can actually use."

While the number of iLuv Bluetooth speakers (all with built-in Alexa of course) and other high-end speakers attracting considerable attention at the event certainly bore out Vernon's thinking, it was technology of a very different kind that was gaining traction at the far end of his company's stand. Here attendees were clearly enjoying the touch and feel of the premium packable products created by Colorado-based Matador.

Among the most popular of these items was soap bar case, which utilised high-tech materials that allowed items to dry without any seepage, and an ultrathin, easily foldable packable blanket with contrast stitching. Explaining the appeal of these particular products, Vernon said: "This is a brand that over-engineers everything. Packables will be very popular in 2020 and we are getting a great response to this range this year."

Offering products with a more directly appreciable utility was Chipolo, a Slovenia-based business specialising in products that minimise your chances of losing essential items. Introducing the company and its current range, Chief Sales Officer Martin Blazinsek said: "This year, we're primarily here to showcase a new beacon that helps you find any important missing items, which also demonstrates that truly useful tech can still be quite affordable.

"In terms of usage, say you're rushing from your hotel room to this particular show and you can't find your badge, you can ring it up via our app. Overall, it's been a product that has been well received at this event, partly because it's a relatively easy way for companies to tap into the high-end tech trend."

Sustainable Equals Fashionable

It's almost universally acknowledged that the tide is definitely turning on sustainability, with US consumers, in particular, having become ever more environmentally conscious as Gen Z establishes itself as the dominant purchasing demographic. This particular trend manifested itself in a wide range of products on show at the event – from wheat straw lunch boxes by the Minnesota-based Webb Company to pens made with 30% recycled coffee grounds courtesy of California-based Goldstar.

Photo: Customer acquisition via customised clipboards.
Customer acquisition via customised clipboards.
Photo: Customer acquisition via customised clipboards.
Customer acquisition via customised clipboards.
Photo: Pet projects: Four-legged friend befrienders.
Pet projects: Four-legged friend befrienders.
Photo: Pet projects: Four-legged friend befrienders.
Pet projects: Four-legged friend befrienders.

It has also become important for the apparel companies that constitute a large segment of the overall promotional products sector. Accordingly, many such businesses had added eco-friendly options to their 2020 product line-up.

New Jersey-based Vantage Apparel, for one, was showcasing Earthwise, a clothing range manufactured from Reprieve, a synthetic fibre made from recycled polyester, with 1% of the company's related products donated to 1% for The Planet, a Vermont-based environmental charity.

Outlining the company's strategy, Director of Marketing Gina Barreca said: "Our clients are looking for sustainable fashion and are excited by our give-back component. In the past, recycled or organic products in our industry weren't considered as desirable as regular products, but technology has now moved forward. In fact, many of our buyers comment that these garments are the kind of thing they'd actually wear themselves."

Pet Products

Another factor having a positive impact on the promotional items' category is the upcoming US election, even – perhaps surprisingly – with regard to pet products. Indeed, as candidates have sought to make inroads into various local communities, one of their preferred ways to recruit constituents has been through distributing freebies for pets, effectively co-opting them into being walking, barking, tail-wagging political billboards. This, then, was just one of the reasons why Wisconsin-based Promopet was seeing particularly heavy traffic at its booth.

Looking to explain this particular phenomenon, Sales and Marketing Director Kimberly Damp said: "It used to be that promotional-pet products were solely the province of groomers and pet shops. That's clearly not the case anymore and we're seeing a lot of business from real estate companies, hotels, mortgage companies – just about every industry in fact. We're also seeing a lot of special events where pets are welcome and that's another opportunity to give away pet-related products.

"Among our best-sellers are leashes of various lengths, harnesses, portable water bottles and reflective safety items. Our most popular item, though, is a tennis ball toss toy. It's very durable and comes with woven imprints. Pet owners just love how much their dogs enjoy it."

The 90s Forever

At present, the 1990s represent a major retro trend in popular culture across the US, a renaissance that Philadelphia-based Pop!Promos was looking to capitalise on with its range of Malibu-style sunglasses and hair scrunchies. Explaining the company's approach, Vice-president of Sales Sarah Smith said: "Everything that's trending in fashion or culture is trending in promotions. For our part, we just make it easy to get.

"We're also seeing a rising interest in packables, such as packing pouches, as well as blue-light glasses. In the case of the latter, the frames can be colour-matched to a brand's Pantone colours."

This sense of nostalgia, along with the constant need for self-expression that characterise many contemporary consumers, also drew attendees to the stand of Kansas-based Gill Studios, where they could take a quick test to determine their "sticker personality". If it turned out that they were, for example, "an adventurer", they walked away with a sheet of indoor / outdoor stickers emblazoned with such sentiments as "Wanderlust", "Explore" and "Adventure Awaits".

Explaining the popularity of this personalised range of decals, Vice-president for Sales Michael Malinowski said: "Many customers are turning to stickers because they help people express their personality, which can then help drive engagement and build loyalty.

"Well-known brands give stickers away at the point-of-purchase and people then put them on their laptops, water bottles etc. They then use them to build their personal brands, posting pictures of themselves with those stickers on social media. It's a real win-win opportunity."

Photo: The 2020 PPAI: Bringing brands and consumers closer via Day-Glo decals.
The 2020 PPAI: Bringing brands and consumers closer via Day-Glo decals.
Photo: The 2020 PPAI: Bringing brands and consumers closer via Day-Glo decals.
The 2020 PPAI: Bringing brands and consumers closer via Day-Glo decals.

PPAI 2020 took place from 14-16 January at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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