top of page

Is it Harder Than Ever to Get Merchandise Right?

Updated: May 28

Earlier this week I saw a post on LinkedIn from an eCommerce specialist named Chloë Thomas, who is extremely passionate about sustainability, carbon waste and environmental responsibility. She was travelling to an exhibition (of which she attends many) using public transport and offsetting the Carbon footprint for the journey. However, in her post, she mentioned a few other steps she will be taking to make her journey as eco-friendly as possible.

linkedin post about promotional swag

It got me thinking.


1.     What really makes a promotional product sustainable and what makes people think a promotional product is sustainable?


Is it important to be sustainable as a company? Absolutely, we should all care about the planet. Plus, it will be, or should be, important to the brand buying your merchandise to put their logo on. Is it important to use environmentally responsible suppliers and manufacturers? Yes. Doing this improves your own company’s CSR and it allows you peace of mind that the products you are branding for your clients don’t just look sustainable, but are traceable, have the lowest Carbon footprint possible and are ethically produced.


Does this make a product sustainable? It definitely helps. However, this product is not necessarily going to be deemed sustainable to the receiver. Firstly, they’re unlikely to know the distributor that was used for the branding or possibly the backstory of the product or manufacturer. They are potentially looking at the appearance of the item and in the case of the post above, whether or not it will actually serve a useful purpose and not just end up in a drawer, or worse, the bin. Is this something distributors are thinking about enough? Sustainability in production vs whether it is a useful, and perceived as sustainable, gift to the person receiving the item.

carbon footprint of merchandise


2.     People will actually say NO to promotional swag.

In the past there was a thought that, ‘people just love free stuff’, regardless of what it is. Who cares? It’s free! But I think that mindset is changing. We’ve had years of being given stress balls, teddies and highlighters we’ll never use and people’s desk drawers are full.  And anyway, what use is your branded merchandise hidden away in a drawer? It’s not giving you any brand awareness there. And eventually, when the unused swag ends up in the bin, so does your marketing spend.

So, people saying no isn’t all bad! It’s not wasting your precious marketing budget and it’s teaching us valuable lessons. Quality and purpose over quantity and gimmicks. If you want your item of swag to bring people over for a chat, you’re going to have to be smarter.

swag refusal


So how do you get people to say yes?



3.     Is it really rocket science?


I believe there is an art to branded merchandise and getting the most in terms of perceived brand value and awareness. However, it’s also not rocket science. Brand things that people will use and that have a long lifespan. The post above mentioned two great examples of products in reusable water bottles and reusable coffee cups. These are items that:

-          Are used by almost all individuals.

-          Are useful not just once or twice a year, but almost every day.

-          They have a positive impact on the environment.

-          They have good branding areas.

-          They’re often taken out and used in public places.

Water bottles, coffee cups, umbrellas, notebooks, pens, backpacks, totes, portable chargers; none of these are innovative and new. But, they are purposeful and it seems that’s what people really want.

I think the best thing is to make sure if you’re buying these items for branding, you get ones of good quality that people are going to want to keep and will last.

A circular and co coffee cup is a good example. A sustainable reusable cup with an estimated 10 year lifespan. Imagine its used 5 times a week on your commute and your logo is seen 5 times every day it’s used. That’s 25 brand impressions a week, 1300 brand impressions a year and over the 10 year lifespan, that could be 13,000 brand impressions. Well worth the £10-£15 investment per cup.


4.     How do you stand out in a world of useful bottles and notebooks?


The final thing that got me thinking from the LinkedIn post was the mention of the Moyu Stone Paper Notebook. She doesn’t just mention her notebook, or even her reusable notebook. The brand and the unique paper type is mentioned.


The branded merchandise industry as a whole is going through a big change as we all move towards a more sustainable and responsible future. It’s brilliant. However, a notebook with FSC paper or a recyclable pen isn’t going to stand out from the crowd and be memorable anymore. So how do you make sure your sustainable swag has the impact you want it to have?


My thought is, either choose a unique take on an everyday item, like the reusable Moyu Stone Paper Notebook, or items with a unique story, such as the Appeel Notebook from Castelli. I remember when I first heard about the latter. There are lots of things that make this item a sustainable winner! It’s manufactured using 100% green hydroelectric energy, it’s REACH compliant and the carbon footprint of Appeel paper has been calculated and neutralised by offsetting. However, the thing I was excited about and that made it memorable, was the fact that the cover and paper are made, in large parts, from apples 🍏 .

The apples originally come from the alpine orchards. Peelings and apple cores are collected from industries that produce juices, preserves and pastries. This waste then goes through a highly technical process to obtain cellulose to create apple paper and eco-leather (PU). These notebooks can then be printed or debossed with your logo. I loved the product so much I’ve chosen it for company branding myself before. In a world of sustainable notebooks, I believe the Appeel, like the Mosu Stone Notebook, would be an opportunity to stand out and the item become a much appreciated and memorable gift.

appeel notebook


In conclusion?


I want to thank Chloë, the writer of the LinkedIn post, for getting my sustainable merchandise brain moving again. It’s important as distributors, who ultimately work B2B, that we notice these posts by the people who actually receive the branded merchandise we work so hard to promote. It’s these people who need to be delighted and use the products in order to keep the clients we serve happy.


My main takeaways were:

-          Products need to be useful to the people receiving them.

-          Think quality and longevity over quantity.

-          A unique approach/story may be important than a unique item.

-          People will turn down FREE now!

-          Sustainability will continue to matter 🌍


If you want to talk about merchandise, brand awareness and sustainability get in touch with me or with rest of the Arcadia team on


Posted by Narelle McGregor, Digital Marketing Lead at Arcadia Merchandise Solutions.


bottom of page