Why Lame Branded Items Need to Disappear Forever

It’s time to say goodbye to cheap branded pens and rethink what your swag items are saying about your brand.


“Have you ever gotten a swag bag at a conference or event and thought, ‘wow, I don’t need ANY of this branded junk?’ That’s what our friend Sunta Sem, head of growth at biodegradable phone case company Pela Case, wants people to think about the next time they consider ordering 50,000 branded pens. They’re only $.02 each, you might protest. It’s such a tiny price to pay for someone to remember your brand. Or is it?

When it comes to exposure for your brand, it’s not a case of the more, the better. Everything you put your brand on becomes a communication of who you are and what you care about. As an agency, we work with our clients to craft an image for their brand, which often includes spending a bit more (okay fine; sometimes a lot more) to do things in a more elevated way, using high quality vendors, and spending the time to make sure things are done right. That pen better look great, write beautifully, feel good, and last.

In addition to our new Pela cases, we just ordered a batch of sweet 88 branded tees through Chyll Pill, a new clothing company launched by Adam Bledin, founder of Lazypants. They’re soft, comfortable, well-cut, and not made in a sweatshop. They also donate a portion of profits to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Like any growing small business, we have to be cash-conscious. When we’re thinking about ways to get our name out there as an agency, it might sometimes be tempting to order a mountain of those cheap pens to, well, get our name out there! However, what does that say about our brand? For one, it’s disingenuous. If we really believe – and we 100% do –  that spending money on creative services like ours is a worthwhile longterm investment for our clients, we owe it to other like-minded companies to give them our business. If there are two kinds of companies – those who are trying to maximize profit over all else, and those who care about doing things right, we have to take a stand.

This is not a new story. Tons has been written about the devastating effect of fast fashion and fast food, for example. I don’t mean to call out every purchase decision people make that doesn’t score a 10/10 on the ethics scale. It’s not about being perfect, and certainly not when it comes to individuals. But as a for-profit company, it’s about identifying places where you think you’re making a good investment and evaluating whether or not you really are. As an agency working to build brands every day, our decisions have to be more deliberate.