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What is the Future of Promotional Products? How the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Change the Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic was a life changing experience for everyone. No person was unaffected by the crisis, whether it was experiencing the illness first hand, adjusting to e-learning, or switching to remote work.

Another big change was in the professional world. Many businesses, from gyms to restaurants, struggled to keep their heads above water in 2020. As a result, promotional products were, understandably, not really in their thoughts.

So what does all of this mean for the industry as a whole? Will we still have band t-shirts at concerts and keep cups at your local coffee house. Will branded merchandise still be handed out at fundraisers and trade shows? Here’s what we can predict about the future of promotional products!

“When the first wave of coronavirus hit the economy, the €25.8 billion promotional products industry got soaked. Canceling conferences drained the lifeblood from promotional product companies.”
– Alyssa Newcomb, writer for Fortune Magazine

How Was Small Business Affected By COVID-19?

Prior to the pandemic, small businesses were frequent shoppers of branded swag. They ordered pens, water bottles, , keychains, and other cheap giveaways to bring along to trade shows and promotional events. Some were even getting crazy and opening pop-up shops that were full of branded merchandise!

But in 2020 social gatherings were basically obsolete, which eliminated some of the need for promotional products. The result of all of this was 41.3% of small businesses being temporarily closed due to the pandemic, and a decline in orders of branded merchandise 

How Was Company Swag Impacted by COVID-19?

With so many businesses in limbo, the promotional products industry was obviously hit hard. The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) reports that distributor sales dropped by 44.4% in July 2020 from the previous year.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. The orders are still coming in, mostly for PPE products, like face masks and hand sanitiser.

Meanwhile, there are others who are ordering branded merchandise to work in tandem with their virtual events.

What is the Future of Promotional Products?

It’s safe to say that businesses will still want promotional products in the future. Branded items are always going to be well-loved gifts and a valuable way to market for restaurants, bands, podcasts, schools, and other businesses, big and small.

Promotional products may not be at in-person events for a while, but it can still be used for:

Corporate Gifts

Your team wants to feel valued, and sometimes that’s as simple as making sure they get amazing corporate gifts. It could be for their work anniversary or the holidays, but either way, 98% of companies see corporate gifting as an indispensable part of their business strategy.

With that in mind, it’s safe to assume there will be orders for custom mugs, notebooks, and other branded gifts going forward into the future. These gifts can be sent to your employees as they work-from-home, a trend that seems to be here to stay for many companies.

Rewards For Loyalty

Customer loyalty is more important now than ever before. Show your top clients how much their support is valued by strategically sending out branded gifts. You can easily ship this out through direct mail.  

It turns out direct mail is a lucrative way to reach customers. Recipients purchase 28% more items and spend 28% more money than people who don’t get the mail. Double that number if the mailer includes a gift! In-person meetings aren’t possible right now, which makes this strategy a good alternative.

Social Media Contests

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have totally changed the way we interact, which is why 91% of businesses use social media marketing to reach their customers. We can expect the amount they post and the number of Facebook and Twitter Ads to increase going into a future that may be entirely virtual.

You can expect an average of over 34% of new customers to be acquired through social media contests. Promotional products as the prize has a much bigger reach than cash or a gift card.


If you have extra in the budget, order promotional products that you can donate to charities, schools, or others in need. You’re aligning your brand with altruism, which is always a good marketing move.

73% of customers want to shop with companies that contribute to charitable giving. With COVID-19 affecting millions, the timing couldn’t be better for your business to lend a helping hand.

Your marketing budget may be tighter due to COVID-19, but you can still find value in branded merchandise. Trade shows and conventions may or may not return soon, but in the meantime, do what you can with what you have – technology!

It’s just about being creative and using branded merchandise wisely.

What Promotional Products Will Be the Most Popular in the Future?

When it comes to which promotional products you order, think “home.” Ask yourself – which items can people use every day as they are living their new lives?

You can expect the following branded items to be the most popular in the future:

Face Masks

Time will tell if face masks are going to always be required in public, but while we recover from the pandemic, it’s a good idea to offer branded masks. These can be just as effective as any billboard in getting your name out there.

The face mask market is projected to grow to 22.14 million by 2021.

Hand Sanitiser

We’re aware of hygiene and have been conscientiously washing and sanitising our hands. You’ll reach a large number of people by using sanitiser as a promotional product. It can be a pleasant scent or be filled in a cool bottle, as long as it contains 60% alcohol, which is the recommended amount by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The hand sanitiser market is expected to reach €2.14 billion by 2027.

Webcam Covers

Tech giveaways are going to continue to reign supreme going forward. Perhaps the biggest opportunity comes from printing your logo on webcam covers. A majority of people are working at home, and there are students taking online classes and engaging in e-learning. That means everyone can use the extra security!

Phone Chargers

In 2020, the only way for us to stay connected was with our mobile phones. It could have been a quick text, a funny Snapchat, or a long phone call, but no matter what, technology has made it possible for us to keep up with those we’ve been missing. All of this makes phone chargers even more valuable!

People spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones every single day.

Wireless Earbuds

Apple AirPods were a huge hit with people across the country in 2019 and 2020, and as a result, Bluetooth headphones shot to the top of many wish lists. You might not be able to afford Apple AirPods as promotional products, but you can still get wireless earbuds that are just as high-end and stylish!

Apple sold over 60 million AirPods in 2019 alone.


What are two things we all can’t live without? Food and water. As a result, it’s safe to assume that custom drinkware will continue to be valuable promotional items. Your business can’t go wrong printing your logo on water bottles, mugs, tumblers, and pint glasses.

Drinking enough water is important, especially during a pandemic.

Kitchen Utensils

Restaurants have been struggling due to the pandemic, but the silver lining is that more and more people are cooking and eating at home. You can get a lot of brand exposure advertising with promotional kitchenware like aprons, cutting boards, and food containers.

55% of people say they’ve been eating at home more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic.


While we may not be traveling, people still can get a ton of use from bags. If you want to use them as promotional products, your best bet is to pick a style that can be used in the great outdoors. People are hiking and taking walks since they’ve been stuck at home, which means they need a bag that’s lightweight and resistant to the elements.


Pyjamas, t-shirts, and jeans are now fair game to wear to work. We all want to be as comfy as possible, which is why your business should order custom tees as merchandise items. A cool graphic print will go a long way!

Slippers & Socks

Let’s circle back to the whole “comfort at work” thing. During Zoom meetings, your co-workers can’t see your feet. That means you can forgo the uncomfortable heels and Oxfords in favour of cozy slippers and socks. Rock those bunny slippers with pride!

Over 50,000 companies are now using Zoom for their work meetings.

Indoor Fitness Products

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to stay indoors, and as a result, many people had to find creative ways to stay in shape. Indoor workouts became more common, which is why your business would do well with branded items like yoga mats and pedometers.

The most popular promotional items stand the test of time and will always be useful to have on hand. These giveaways fit the bill and are sure to reign supreme into the future.

What All This Means for Marketers

Big changes are on the horizon in the world of promotional products, and it’s a waiting game to see how these manifest. Either way, here is some guaranteed advice that you should start practicing asap!

#1: Don’t Waste Your Time On Poor Quality & Useless Products

Your promotional products should only be things people can use in this “new normal.” That includes PPE items as well as stuff that’s useful around the house like yoga mats and cutting boards.

#2: Go Virtual

Get ready for trade shows, pop-up shops, and other events to be virtual in 2021 and beyond. You can still offer promotional products at these “events” by creatively using QR codes and social media.

#3: Try To Make Life Easier

Offer branded merchandise that people actually need to get through their day-to-day. COVID-19 has been tough on everyone, so put your brand in a position to help, whether it’s through donations or just making sure everyone has sanitiser.

Final Thoughts

We are going to be experiencing the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis for years, but one thing’s for certain, your business is going to need to be more creative in your marketing to win over new customers.

73% of consumers are optimistic about 2021, so your business should be, too. Keep the good vibes going with promotional products!

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