8 Retro Promo Products to Bring You Back

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When I was little, I remember going to antique stores with my grandma. She lived out of state from us, and whenever she would visit, or we would visit her, we would always find some sort of small downtown square that had antique shops lining each side of the main street. It instilled a love for vintage in me when I was younger, and is something that I carry to this day (my Pyrex collection is impressive).

As a kid, I would always gravitate towards the toys, like we all do when we were out looking at expensive breakable items that we weren’t allowed to touch. But, as I got older and my love for advertising grew, I would start to gravitate towards promotional products, well before I was part of the industry. I would always pick up something that was related to a brand I liked or something unique. I would spend hours in antique stores and flea markets, sorting through buttons and glassware to find something special. When I worked for a Star Wars collectible store shortly after I graduated from college, promotional products were something that everyone always sought after, especially items from 1977 when A New Hope was released, as there wasn’t a whole lot of merchandise released at the time (and trust me, I could spend hours talking about the history of Star Wars toys.)

I think that really speaks to the impact of promotional products. Generations later – they have lasting effects.

A quick search through eBay, watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS, or American Pickers on the History channel shows just how big of a secondary market there is for these types of branded products, whether it was a promotional product shipped to stores to promote a new item, or handed out to consumers to use at home and keep their brand in the forefront of people’s minds.

Promotional products have been around, at least in the United States, since the 1700s, with some of the first promotional items being campaign buttons for George Washington. But there wasn’t an industry for it, not until Jasper Meek, a printer in Ohio, paired with a local shoe supply store to give kids book bags with their shoe purchases. Then in 1904, PPAI was founded, giving the industry its first trade association.

Promotional products took off in the 70s when companies began to realize that they needed more than print advertising or an occasional giveaway to stand out among the crowd of competitors. These brands knew that word of mouth was a powerful tool but soon found that putting advertising into literal hands was even more influential. And boy, did some unique – and classic – products crop up over the years.

I found eight retro promotional products that might bring a little inspiration and nostalgia to you.

1. 1970s Genuine Russell Coca-Cola Yo-Yo

I have never learned how to yo-yo, but this is pretty neat. Imagine all the kids on the block getting super jealous of your mad yo-yo skills and your cool Coke yo-yo.

2. Remember Y2K Stickers

This is a reproduction, but if you were born before probably ’98, you remember the panic of Y2K. These stickers were handed out at Best Buy, reminding consumers to turn off their computers before midnight, so nothing crashed. If it did crash, there was a branded reminder they could pick up their next computer at Best Buy.

3. Disneyland Hotel Ashtray

It’s no surprise that the Disneyland Hotel had ashtrays in all of its rooms, might as well make them branded and advertise complete convention facilities and the world’s most exciting hotel? I don’t think people are clamoring to get their hands on these now, but it’s a cool piece of Disneyana.

4. Apollo Moon Landing Commemorative Glass

The moon landing. “One small step.” One of the most important steps forward that humans have made in modern history, everyone wanted a piece of the historic moment. Marathon Gas Stations offered these glasses at the height of the Apollo program.

5. IBM Personal Computer Caddy

Apple. PC. IBM. The 80s were the personal computer wars, and everyone was trying to get their computers into consumer and businesses hands. This desktop caddy by IBM was made in 1983. Who doesn’t want a tiny IBM next to their big IBM?

6. R2-D2 Pepsi Cooler

If you walk into a retro toy store, I guarantee they will have one of these. We had one at my old store. Pepsi made these R2-D2 coolers in 1997 to promote the theatrical rerelease of Star Wars: A New Hope in convenience stores. We put shirts in ours.

7. George Washington Campaign Button

This is one of the earliest forms of promotional products we have in the United States – George Washington’s campaign button from 1789.

8. McDonald’s Trick-or-Treat Buckets

Originally released in 1991, these designated you as Trick-or-Treat royalty. Highly coveted by elementary school kids everywhere, these were produced by McDonald’s and given out when a lucky kid got their parents to take them to get a Happy Meal.

Do you have a favorite retro promotional product? Tell us in the comments below! Or, if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out SAGE Online, where you can find over a million verified products and, you’ll be sure to find something unique. Maybe even something that brings you and your client’s a little nostalgia.

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(Marketing Content Writer)

Betty is the Marketing Content Writer at SAGE. She is a self-proclaimed, bonafide nerd, and when she's not writing, you can find her playing video games, watching space documentaries, hunting for vintage Star Wars toys, and binge-watching the latest show on Netflix.

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