There's a good post over at EREC about evaluating promotional items. It's not very long, but what I like about it is that it gives a useful framework for organizing one's thoughts on the subject. It's easy to think to yourself, "Well, I don't see this working very well," or "This might be great but I'm not sure it's worth it," but being able to evaluate specifically why something is or isn't a good buy as a promotional item is extremely helpful.
I love her observation that while tiny candy bars wrapped in a strip of paper with your name and URL on them are pretty cheap to produce and will doubtless be incredibly popular as give-aways, as soon as someone tears open the candy to eat it, they're going to throw away your info along with the wrapper. Popular item, not terribly expensive per unit, but essentially useless as a promotional vehicle.
On the other end of the spectrum are things like T-shirts, which are incredibly popular give-aways, but rather prohibitively expensive for your average writer. People love them, though; BayCon has an event each year called the Trailer Park, where an ex-staffer who still has some ties to movie studios comes in with a bunch of trailers and similar short bits to show, and in between he gives away promotional items from the studios. The T-shirts are the most popular, hands down. (Of course, if you're Warner Brothers or Lucasfilm, you can afford that sort of thing.)
If the T-shirts are cool enough, though, you might be able to get people to pay for them. I have dozens of T-shirts I've bought at various SF conventions, advertising the con itself, or a book or movie or character I liked.
Buttons are fairly cheap but not terribly effective; T-shirts often get worn around after the event, where they'll keep spreading the publicity. Buttons rarely are.
Posters are sort of middling popular, especially a really nice one, but I've never wanted one; how would I get it home from the event uncrushed? And if you're at a one-day event, where you can't just pop up to your hotel room for two minutes to drop off the poster, do you make the trek back to wherever you parked your car (assuming you didn't come on public transit) or carry the thing around for the rest of the day?
One really popular item from a few years back, when the movie The Phantom was coming out, was a pair of replica rings like the ones worn by the title character. They were very nice, actual metal, and there was a bit of a frenzy to get them during the convention. Things like that, though, would be better for pumping up enthusiasm in people who are already fans, rather than stirring up enthusiasm in new fans, since the rings didn't have any identifying info on them; to someone who wasn't already familiar with the character, they were just interesting rings. And adding something like a URL would make them look tacky and cut down on the very attraction which makes them valuable. High appeal, but expensive and a low promotional return.
Although now I have an idea about a bookmark.... I like bookmarks and use them all the time. Heck, half the time I use blank 3x5 cards because I have a bazillion of them lying around. I still don't grab every free bookmark I see at an event, though, because there are just too many of them around. But what if that bookmark had a piece of candy attached? :D You have some nice bookmarks printed up, punch a hole in the top to thread a piece of colored string or yarn or whatever through (you've seen those for sale at bookstores, right? with the little tassel-things on them and maybe a charm?) then use the hole to fasten on one of those tiny candy bars, or some other cheap but appealing consumable. It should be very easy to remove the item from the bookmark; if I unwrapped a candy bar and had left in my hand a bookmark with a piece of yarn tied to it and a chocolate-smeared candy wrapper firmly taped to the yarn, I'd probably toss the bookmark before I dug up something to cut the yarn. Especially if I ate the candy at the event, while walking around the dealers' area with only what's in my pockets to hand. Setting it up so one tug of a bow-knot in the string loosens both string and candy from the bookmark would be much better. [ponder]
Anyway, just thinking with my keyboard. :)
Have any of you ever given out promotional items? What did you get, and how well did they work? Any estimates on how well they repaid your investment?
As an audience member, what kinds of promotional items do you like to receive? What'll you pick up at a convention or trade show, and what do you pass over or not even notice? Any promotional items good enough that you've actually paid for them? Anything you've actually used after the event to go find the distributor's web site or product?