The Image GroupThe Image Group

By Justin Herman

Three Generations

You could say that I grew up in the promotional products industry. Both my father and grandfather were in the business, and I followed in their professional footsteps right after college. Needless to say, with today’s online resources, I go to market differently than either my father or grandfather did. And it’s fun for me to compare how the “hot” promotional products have changed through three generations.

My late grandfather, Bob Herman, began selling advertising “premiums” by going door-to-door to area businesses. In his day, popular items included logoed key tags, wall calendars, coffee mugs, cigarette lighters, and ashtrays. He sold messaging buttons to retailers and politicians, and inexpensive pens to everyone. T-shirts, “silk screened” with custom imprints, were his best-selling clothing items. Back then, promotional products were considered novelty items, or what is derogatorily referred to as “trinkets and trash.”

When my dad, Rick Herman, entered the business, branded merchandise was gaining sophistication. Logoed apparel was suddenly fashionable. Golf shirts embroidered with company logos were starting to be commonplace – thanks largely to the workplace casual movement – as were ball caps and outerwear. Novelty items now featured that era’s technology; for instance, I remember my father selling a matchbook that opened to reveal a tiny calculator inside.

Today, my customers want high-tech gadgets that recharge their cell phones and tablets or measure their workout progress. They like wireless speakers and headphones so they can take their music wherever they go without worrying about cords or connectivity. There’s growing demand for environmentally friendly items, such as reusable water bottles. And when it comes to apparel, clients prefer active wear that transitions easily from the gym to the street, and that features cool decorating techniques such as heat seals and debossing.

While many promotional products have stood the test of time (i.e., calendars, screen-printed T-shirts, drinkware), the item hot list continues to evolve. For one thing, packaging is adding a new dimension, bringing opportunities for marketers to engage product recipients and track their return on investment. It’s an exciting time in our industry.

Who knows? Maybe my son, Jack, will one day sell promotional products. In any event, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

By Brian Kingsmore

Who Makes Your Promotional Products?

Question: Do you know who makes the promotional products you buy? In all likelihood, you don’t. But the people who sell them to you better know.

That’s one of the reasons we ask our suppliers to confirm their compliance with safety and social standards by signing our Commitment to Ethical & Responsible Conduct. Patterned after the PPAI Code of Product Responsibility Conduct, the form includes statements on the vendor’s environmental, safety, and quality commitments. But by signing the commitment, suppliers also attest that they do not abuse labor in any way.

I find it hard to believe that, in 2015, promises to refrain from employing underage, indentured, or slave labor are still necessary. And yet, there are manufacturers whose unscrupulous factories require employees to work long hours at unfair pay and in unsafe conditions. According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, nearly 21 million people are victims of labor abuse worldwide.

Common types of labor abuse sound like something from a Charles Dickens novel:

Forced Labor is work performed by someone who has not offered his or her efforts voluntarily. Forced labor, or slavery, is most often extracted by use of physical or emotional threat.

Child Labor involves the exploitive employment of kids between the ages of five and 17. Alarmingly, 11 percent of the world’s children in that age group are victims of child labor.

Debt Bondage, or bonded labor, includes forcing people to work to pay a financial obligation – such as accepting employer-provided housing or food – often with open-ended terms. A family’s debt bondage is sometimes passed from one generation to the next.

Fraudulent Contract Labor refers to requiring individuals to sign a work contract with misleading or hard-to-understand legal terms. The contracts often restrict employees from working elsewhere until their alleged commitments expire.

To be sure, most companies who purchase promotional products never consider the possibility that the items they buy might have been manufactured using forced or child labor. But when problems occur, not knowing about labor abuse carries little weight in court – or among public opinion. That’s why it’s important to do business with a company that thoroughly vets its suppliers.

So even if you don’t know who makes the promotional products you buy from The Image Group, rest assured that we’re taking steps to make certain that our vendors meet all international labor standards.

By The Image Group

Do Customers Care If You Are Socially Responsible?

Consumers around the world believe that companies have a responsibility to impact social change. According to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 91 percent of consumers expect companies to do more than simply make a profit for shareholders – they believe businesses should actively address social and environmental issues.

Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing agency, partnered with marketing analytics specialists Ebiquity on the study, which involved surveying 9,709 global consumers and gauging their opinions and perceptions about corporate social responsibility (CSR). Cone found consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about CSR, as well as personally engaged.

“Global consumers have officially embraced corporate social responsibility,” says the report, “not only as a universal expectation for companies but as a personal responsibility in their own lives.”

In a way, spending provides consumers with an avenue for demonstrating personal social responsibility. Among respondents, 84 percent say they prefer buying socially or environmentally responsible products and services, and they will switch brands to do so. Consumers also report a willingness to pay more – or buy less – if those actions can positively impact society.

Nine of 10 consumers are looking for more opportunities to purchase responsibly, which creates opportunities for companies to leverage their CSR efforts into a competitive advantage. But companies must give CSR more than lip service. Two-thirds of respondents say that only extraordinary CSR efforts get their attention – and earn their business.

Cone points out that companies must openly talk about their CSR progress. Unless they hear how you are addressing CSR, 52 percent of consumers assume you are not acting in socially responsible ways.

By The Image Group

Who’s Regulating Your Promotional Products?

As September drew to a close, a couple hundred safety-conscious people gathered for the PPAI Product Responsibility Summit in Bethesda, Maryland. Industry suppliers and distributors came together with government and legal experts to discuss advances in product safety and social responsibility. This was the fifth year PPAI held the event, and developments in just the past 12 months are worth mentioning.

One notable change is an increase in government agencies involved in regulating promotional products. Until recently, tracking promotional product safety fell largely on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That certainly makes sense as the CPSC works to protect consumers from potential fire, choking, or chemical hazards, among other risks. The commission has a strong focus on children’s products and gets involved whenever consumer product recalls are necessary.

As awareness of promotional product safety has grown, so too has participation by various other government bodies. Agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency have become more active in regulating our industry.

Take wearable fitness devices, a popular promotional product item today, as an example. If an item utilizes a lithium-ion battery, the CPSC probably wants to know whether it has been tested for safety. If the product comes with a health claim, such as helping improve overall health by reminding you that you’re slouching or due for a drink of water, the FDA might consider the item a medical device. And regarding that health claim, the FTC will likely want to see how the seller substantiates it.

With scrutiny increasing, buyers of promotional products must be even more diligent in protecting their brands from regulatory missteps. That’s why we’ve made safety and social compliance one of our top concerns. When doing business with The Image Group, be assured that we’ve made every effort to meet and exceed all regulatory guidelines and social standards.

Your brand is our priority, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect its hard-earned reputation.

By Brian Kingsmore

How Sticky Is Your Marketing?

In his bestselling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses a concept he calls “the stickiness factor.” Simply put, stickiness refers to a way we remember things, whether it’s learning the alphabet as small children or becoming interested in brands by seeing television commercials over and over. Gladwell points out that, in both cases, repetition plays an important part.

I happen to be a big Gladwell fan, and I couldn’t help thinking about promotional products while reading about the stickiness factor. Research from our industry shows that promotional products have a built-in repetition feature.

Take logoed bags as an example. During the two years the average recipient keeps a branded bag, he or she typically uses it nine times per month. While carrying the bag, the recipient has contact with 111 other people. That equates to 5,700 logo impressions over twenty-four months. How sticky is that?

When it comes to price, promotional products have a lower cost-per-impression than television commercials, newspaper ads, and radio spots. And branded merchandise has a recall rate between 15 and 50 percent higher than TV, print, or online ads.

It seems clear to me that promotional products can tip your marketing in the right direction.

By The Image Group

Responsibility

We’ve just published our annual report on corporate social responsibility. In these pages, you’ll learn about recent efforts to ensure that The Image Group’s entire supply chain shares our interest in safety and social compliance. You’ll read about a job training initiative through which we’re creating desperately needed work opportunities. And you’ll see some of the many ways our employees are helping improve the lives of others.

We’re working hard to be good corporate citizens. Please let us know how we’re doing.

Download the report here.

By The Image Group

Jot This Down: Writing Instruments Rule

Jot This Down: Writing Instruments Rule

Fifty-six percent of U.S. consumers own a writing instrument imprinted with a company logo. In the Midwest, that number jumps to 68 percent. People keep logoed writing instruments an average of six months and use them multiple times every day.

That makes writing instruments the top owned promotional products around. And, according to ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, their one-tenth of a cent cost per impression is the lowest of any form of advertising.

What makes logoed pens and pencils so popular? According to ASI’s study, 93 percent of consumers keep logoed writing instruments because of their usefulness.

Turns out consumers prefer products that are useful and practical. In fact, when it comes to writing instruments, usefulness prevails over attractiveness by 5 to one.

Looking for a high-impact, cost-effective way to get your name seen and remembered? Give people something to write home about – and with. And for more information about the advertising power of promotional products, download the ASI study here.

Research provided by the Advertising Specialty Institute, © 2014, All Rights Reserved.

By The Image Group

Swing and a Miss

Swing and a Miss

The best designs in the world are based on purpose and function. When a design solves a functional problem as simply and elegantly as possible, the resulting form will be honest and Baseball’s Colorado Rockies had a special gift for the first 15,000 fans entering Coors Field for last Saturday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates: a free jersey featuring the name and number of the team’s shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki. Unfortunately, the All-Star player’s name was misspelled.

Omitting the second T, the jerseys contained the spelling “Tulowizki.” The ball club issued an apology to fans – and corporate sponsor King Soopers – for the error and promised to exchange the jerseys at a future game.

We feel for Tulo – as his fans call him – but also for the decorator who misspelled his name. Mistakes such as this one are bound to happen. In fact, not long ago, we screen printed T-shirts for one of our longtime customer’s facilities on which we misspelled the name of the factory’s city. Not only did we fail to spot the error, but our customer’s employees wore the shirts for a week or two before any of them noticed.

Even with a majors-leading hitting average of .340, Tulo strikes out now and then. It happens to the best of us.

By The Image Group

The Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act of 2008

Answer: The Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act of 2008

Aimed at enhancing child safety, the Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires that all children’s products undergo stringent testing for lead content, phthalates, removable parts, flammable textiles, and other proven hazards. The law applies to all children’s products, including promotional products that children might receive.

Under CPSIA, children’s products are consumer goods designed or intended mainly for use by children twelve or under. Furthermore, CPSIA classifies goods that appeal to children – through their packaging, exhibition, promotion, or advertising – as children’s products, even if targeting young people is not the manufacturer’s primary intention.

So, how does CPSIA apply to the screen-printed products that your organization distributes? Simply put, if your screen-printed promotional products are intended for children, or might somehow end up in children’s hands, then you share the responsibility for ensuring they meet CPSIA’s stringent requirements. The law requires that children’s products (a) be tested for compliance through a third-party laboratory approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission; (b) have written Children’s Product Certificates providing evidence of CPSIA compliance; and (c) come with permanent tracking information affixed to the product and its packaging.

Beyond the legal requirements of CPSIA, organizations that give away or resell promotional items face public relations consequences if the promotional products they distribute do not comply with the law. Along with significant financial penalties for nonconformance, failure to comply can result in costly product recalls and lasting damage to your brand’s hard-earned reputation.

Although The Image Group acquires the products that we imprint with your logo from third-party manufacturers, under CPSIA, once we screen print your design or message on an item, we become the products’ manufacturer of record. At that point, The Image Group assumes liability for CPSIA conformity, including performing applicable testing, providing Children’s Product Certificates, and affixing permanent tracking information.

But that’s not all. The Image Group then accepts the additional responsibility for protecting your brand image by ensuring that every screen-printed product you buy from us meets all legal and social safety standards.

When you obtain screen-printed goods from The Image Group, be assured that we’ve made every effort to meet and exceed all regulatory guidelines and social standards, so that our products are safe for children.

That’s our promise to you.

By The Image Group

Learning the Hard Way

Learning the Hard Way

A new study by Ecology Center found that 71 percent of university-themed merchandise sold at major retailers contains unacceptable amounts of hazardous chemicals. Researchers at the Michigan-based nonprofit tested sixty-five items and found substances banned or restricted from consumer goods, including arsenic, lead, mercury, phthalates, and toxic flame-retardants. More than a third of the tested products contained multiple harmful chemicals.

Ecology Center tested items with imprints from nineteen national universities – from key rings to seat cushions to sports jerseys – purchased from leading chains such as Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Kroger. The hazardous chemical levels routinely exceeded standards set by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

The study highlights the risks universities assume when licensing their brands for promotional products. Beyond the regulatory requirements of safety compliance, schools face public relations consequences if the branded products they distribute do not comply with the law.

“Many of the universities represented in our study pride themselves on their efforts to green their campuses, but there’s a disconnect when university-themed products contain harmful chemicals linked to diseases like certain cancers, thyroid disruption, infertility, and learning disabilities,” says Ecology Center’s Rebecca Meuninck.

Meuninck’s comment is a lesson for all university procurement officials. Failure to meet legal and socially accepted standards can result in lasting damage to a university’s reputation.

That’s why we at The Image Group have made product safety one of our top priorities. We understand our responsibility for protecting your brand by ensuring that every product you buy from us meets all legal and social safety standards. When you obtain branded goods from The Image Group, be assured that we’ve made every effort to meet and exceed all regulatory guidelines and social standards, so that our products are safe for everyone.

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Three Generations
Who Makes Your Promotional Products?
Do Customers Care If You Are Socially Responsible?
Who’s Regulating Your Promotional Products?
How Sticky Is Your Marketing?
Responsibility
Jot This Down: Writing Instruments Rule
Swing and a Miss
The Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act of 2008
Learning the Hard Way