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
2. Remember Y2K Stickers
3. Disneyland Hotel Ashtray
4. Apollo Moon Landing Commemorative Glass
5. IBM Personal Computer Caddy
6. R2-D2 Pepsi Cooler
7. George Washington Campaign Button
8. McDonald’s Trick-or-Treat Buckets
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.