History of Promotional Products


Promotional products have been used as marketing tools almost as long as we have been a country! The establishment of the first Australian state almost coincides with the moment when the first promotional products were ever used in recorded history. Keep on reading to find out more facts about branded merchandise, its history, and the benefits it provides to businesses.

The First Recorded Promotional Products Ever

The earliest account of promotional items in use spans back to the US election of George Washington, when commemorative buttons were passed out to the masses to honour the first president of the new nation.

There were also other moments in history that paved the way for promotional products. In 312 A.D., Constantine the Great spread the Christian word using engraved coins and jewellery that he distributed in 19 different locations throughout the Roman empire.

Later, in the 15th century, Johannes Guttenberg, the inventor of the printing press, made it possible to create new types of promotional goods. Newspaper ads and business card were created due to the amazing new invention that Guttenberg rolled out to the world.

However, it was Jasper Meeks who is credited as the father of promotional items in the US when, during a slump in his newspaper printing business around 1886, he began printing on burlap bags with advertising messages for children to carry their books to school to stay afloat. The products he created match the modern-day definition on branded merchandise and we must admit he had a brilliant idea!

Just a little before Jasper Meeks created his branded merchandise, in the 1880s, vibrant bookmarks became fashionable in Victorian England. The bookmarks were made with ribbon or silk and imprinted using the chromolithography method.

Concomitantly, railroad companies branded their businesses by offering promotional calendars. These precursors of corporate gifts were handed out to passengers and put on display in ticket offices.

In 1893, the first souvenir keychains were used during the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago, the same event where the first Ferris wheel was introduced. The end of the 18th century must have been a really exciting period, with so many inventions emerging!

At the beginning of the 20th century, plastic began to be used on a large scale, and the new screen-printing method made it easy to customise plastic items with companies’ logos and slogans. What followed next is history.

The History of Promotional Products in Australia

Closer to home, the Australian Promotional Products Association (APPA) was established in 1986 and incorporated in 1988. It promotes the development, integrity, professionalism and creativity of the advertising form dedicated to promotional products and promotional marketing ensuring good business practices and the highest industry and community standards.

APPA members comply with the APPA Code of Conduct and APPA Constitution, and as such are reputable and professional companies. All members are expected to trade honestly and ethically, and are capable of providing expert advice for incorporating promotional products into a marketing campaign.

The committees making up the APPA are run by volunteers who offer their time, energy, and expertise to the organisation. Current committees of APPA are the APPA Awards Committee, the Modern Slavery Working Group, the Y-Promo Committee, the New Zealand Member Representative Working Group, the PPMM Editorial Advisory Committee, and the APPA State Committees.

The APPA Code of Conduct is followed by all APPA member organisations and sets the standards for relationships between members, best practice with clients, and general food order with respect to business management. The Code of Conduct includes rules referring to:

  • Fair business dealings
  • Recognition of fellow members and promotion of business activities
  • Honest representations
  • Commitment to training and staff development
  • Promotion and development of the industry
  • Insurance and liability coverage
  • Respecting personnel
  • Protecting the environment
  • Respect for fellow members
  • Commitment to addressing complaints

The entire code of conduct is available here.

At the beginning of this article, we were mentioning how modern Australia has the same age as the first promotional products. The first Australian state, New South Wales, was established in 1788, while George Washington was elected a year later, an event which occasioned the release of the first promotional products in modern history.

Promotional products became widely available in Australia in the 20th century, like in all developed countries. However, recent year concerns on our country’s waste problem led changes in corporate gifts practices, such as a rise in the popularity of promotional reusable coffee cups. The War on Waste ABC’s series revealed some alarming statistics:

  • Australia is one of the most wasteful countries in the developed world;
  • 85% of soft plastics from bags and packaging ends up in landfill;
  • Australia pioneered recycling programs in the 60s starting initiatives such as Clean Up Australia Day;
  • There are 3 million tonnes of food waste produced every year, 2.6 million of that from households;
  • 1 billion coffee cups are used in Australia every year – these are not recycled.

Under such circumstances, it has become vital that we learn how to use promotional products wisely and focus on quality rather than quantity. Any business offering corporate gifts should pick items that are useful for recipients and preferably can be recycled or repurposed.

Why Promotional Products?

Branding has never been as important for companies as it is today. With information so easy to access on the internet, consumers can easily spot a brand based on a colour scheme or even a jingle. Brands are constantly and continuously being exposed by marketers, and as a result we are bombarded with over 3,000 messages per day! Experts even believe that as much as 50 percent of a business’ value depends on its brand.  Therefore, branding on promotional items makes good sense as a marketing tool to constantly remind your customers about what you do and who you are as a company. Corporate gifts are keeping your brand front of mind and making your business memorable!

Given the waste problem in developed countries and the Australian Promotional Products Association’s code of conduct, it’s important that we choose branded merchandise carefully and with a focus on durability. Choosing corporate gifts that recipients will not discard of immediately is also beneficial to business. The more promotional products are used, the lower is the cost per impression and the higher is the brand visibility.

Visual Marketing Australia’ new division VMA Promo was created to complement our digital marketing services by better servicing our client database and helping them to reach a greater audience with increased brand awareness.

By choosing our promotional products you will be increasing your brand awareness the most efficiently while also making sure you are using this promotional method in an ethical and sustainable manner. Reasons to choose VMA Promo include:

  • Guaranteed quality

We work extremely closely with our dedicated overseas product specialists and source directly from the factories! We have strict quality control procedures in-place to make sure your products meet the highest standards of quality before your items are shipped.

  • Shipping directly to your door

Each and every parcel we ship goes directly to our facility for processing so we can check which shipping method is the quickest and most cost-effective!

  • Cost-effective

We want to ensure you are getting value for your money and getting your products at the lowest possible prices. We can source locally for a quick turnaround OR direct from the factories to save you money and we guarantee to beat most prices or match any other quote you may receive.

Contact us today for your next quality corporate gifts! Together we will add a positive page to the history of promotional products in Australia and worldwide!


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