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.
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).
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.
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.