Take This Mouse Pad, Please

Working as an advertising designer in an industry glutted with vendors vying for the attention of salespeople and advertisers, I’ve been presented with more than my share of cheap-ass tchotchkes. It’s an interesting phenomenon: various vendors present you with all sorts of novelty swag in an attempt to persuade you to sell their widget over that of their competitor. I’ve received so many Styrofoam “stress balls” as to be completely stressed-out whenever someone tries to force one upon me. The only stress ball I ever really appreciated was the one shaped like a little businessman. I took six of those because, well, they really made great targets for the rapid-fire dart gun the vendor two tables down had just given me.

You can tell a lot about a company by the tchotchke they give you. These clues are not as obvious as they might seem and inexperienced people could very easily get the wrong impression. Let me share with you the insights I’ve learned after nearly a decade in the industry using as my examples the more common items encountered.


You might think that a pen means that the vendor is thinking of you as a salesperson, taking into consideration what it is you do all day long. Knowing you talk to a lot of customers, they assume you must take a lot of notes and therefore could really use a pen. In actuality, a pen says that the company waited until the last minute to decide what to have made up for the event and went with the first damn thing they thought of. Pens. Something provided to every salesperson by the company they work for. Something so chincy they just abandon the unopened boxes of pens that are left after the event because it would cost too much to ship them back to their home office. Pens suck. Pens stand for laziness and stinginess.

Key Chains

I can’t imagine why anyone would think a key chain is a good tchotchke. Everyone’s already got a damn key chain. Nobody needs another key chain unless it comes with a key that might start a sweet car or something. Key chains suck more than pens. To be fair, I should mention that I always get a kick out of it when they make the key chain double as a bottle-opener because, you know, I’m really into irony. Key chains stand for arrogance (and sometimes drunk driving).

Golf Towels

Every now and then, some company will really over-think their target demographic. When they do that, they will almost inevitably decide on the golf towel. There are a handful of our salesguys who golf and would appreciate such a gift, but for the majority of the people I work with, a golf towel is just a washcloth with a hole and grommet in one corner. At first golf towels seem like a pretty cool thing all fuzzy and surge-stitched, but really they’re just something to get lost behind the washing machine. Golf towels stand for pretension and trying way too hard.

Mini Tape Measures

Have you ever seen these ridiculous things? They extend to an incredible three feet. 36 whole inches. Perfect for measuring absolutely nothing! And, more often then not, they’re attached to a damn key ring. Tiny tape measures stand for utter uselessness and frustration.

Coffee Mugs

Now we’re getting somewhere. Lately companies have been handing out those lovely stainless steel numbers with the nifty sliding sip-hole cover. That’s going to win the heart of a Seattleite 13 out of 14 times because, as everybody knows, people from Seattle absolutely love stainless steel. Coffee mugs stand for competence and motivation.


The perfect tchotchke. It requires almost no thought, it’s phenomenally inexpensive in big lots, and it’s something nearly every industry event participant loves to receive because it has so many uses. Some vendors actually design a shirt worth wearing, but even if the t-shirt is hideous, it can always be used as a smock when dying ones hair or, of course, as an oil rag in the garage. Putting a t-shirt on your dog is an easy way to add a layer in the winter. For these reasons and more, t-shirts are hardly ever turned down and serve as one of the best ways to widely disseminate corporate branding. T-shirts stand for pragmatism and efficiency.

Other less common spoils I’ve taken away from such events include: mouse pads, benders, plush animals, acrylic shot glasses that flash different colors, balsa-wood gliders, mini personal fans, baseballs, squirt guns, pixelblocks, flashlights, a stapler, stickers, boxer shorts, baseball caps, and even an insulated lunch bag and personal cooler.

Of course, the best tchochke of all is when the company decides to just give you one of their new products. That stands for coolness and generosity every time, no matter what the product is.*

*Granted, I’ve never been to such an event held for the sex toy industry.

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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10 Responses to Take This Mouse Pad, Please

  1. RedScylla says:

    What about keychains that double as condom storage? 'Cause I gave away a lot of those. Of course, I also gave away about 100,000 condoms in 3 years.

  2. Lurkertype says:

    Golf towel! So that's what that thing is. We have one of those and we use it in the kitchen and hang it on the hook by the grommet, but I didn't know what it was.

  3. I've never even heard of a golf towel! Our companies are obviously not as classy over here. I used to work at a major telecommunications company and the crap they gave away was so bad they ended up foisting onto us poor workers. I didn't mind. I like stuff and I like free stuff even better. I got a frisbee, an alarm clock, a personal compact mirror, and a couple of four ring binders. From the uni I've got a cupboard full of free t-shirts and a couple of really handy carry bags. Stuff I would give away if I ran a company: footballs, slippers, pedometers, beach balls, toothbrushes, buckets (you can never have too many buckets) and barbeque utensils. And scissors. Scissors are a good idea.

  4. Patricia says:

    lol…I can totally relate!! I worked directly with vendors…they sure can get crafty. I've gotten stuff like the basic crappy items like key chains and pens. But, I have to say, I've gotten some weird and cool items too. Gel eye mask, hand sanitizers, tiny pepper grinder….the best was a handheld GPS….and all branded with their logos. Sheesh.

  5. Brown Suga' says:

    What's golf? Sorry, I'm a Scrabble/ endurance sports/ soccer/ basketball redneck. I didn't even know there were golf towels. Lame.
    Coffee mugs and tees – NOW we're talking!
    Kirk – you forgot to mention baseball caps. 🙂 Those can be handy too.

  6. CrowSeer says:

    True story: At our uni Freshers' Fair, a driving school was trying to get students to sign up by giving away the bottle-opener key-chains! I almost died under the weight of the irony… but then I was saved by the offer of a free coach trip out to a local cinema to see The Usual Suspects (a new release at the time), which was awesome. Free stuff rules!!!

  7. Kirk says:

    Don't get me wrong, everybody. I really only get offended at free stuff when it's a pen that doesn't work as soon as they give it to me, a branded key chain, or a "stress ball" that's not in an imaginative shape. The rest of the stuff is gravy and I snatch it up like everybody else.RedZ: Let me pitch my ad campaign idea: "Redzilla Brand. Destroy Tokyo… safely."LT: Ha! That's what we used the last one I got for, too! Now I think it really is lost behind the washing machine.EWQ: Are there even golf courses in Australia? I kid. I've spent plenty of time considering which items I'd give away if I ran a company. One item here on my desk that is definitely on the list: Magic 8 Ball. Way cool.Patricia: Tiny pepper grinder!? That's pretty cool, even if it only holds four pepper corns. Karin would probably take it from me as a prop for her dolls, though.Suga': I mentioned baseball caps in the list at the end. Like t-shirts, they're always appreciated but unlike t-shirts they won't stay on your dog or wipe up motor oil. :)Dee: That's the sort of irony I live for. Palpable, sticky irony that burns. What a rush! The Usual Suspects is on my list of ten all-time favorite movies. Fact.

  8. Red Pen says:

    Your observations are right on, as usual. Over the years, I've only received two freebies that I thought were worthwhile: a towel, and a small purse/tote that turned out to be just the right size for carrying around a camera.

  9. MrsPeel says:

    *Granted, I’ve never been to such an event held for the sex toy industry.

    Oh well shhhsshhhhh I have.
    not that they are much use….
    (why cant I go back to the normal lettering thingy?)

  10. little miao says:

    coffee mugs would definitely be the best. at academic conventions sometimes they have tote bags and even t-shirts and magnets, but never anything as useful as a coffee mug.

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