Advertising specialties are defined as useful articles of merchandise that are imprinted with an advertisement and are given to customers and potential customers without any strings attached. Unlike premiums, they are not earned or awarded in exchange for a purchase. Sometimes the ad on these specialties is no more than the name or logo of the sponsor. Everyday one comes across cigarette lighters, ashtrays, paperweights, ball-point pens and T-shirts that meet this description. These are just a few of the estimated 15,000 different types of merchandising items that are used in the medium called specialty advertising.

All advertising media offer users specific advantages-and all media have their limitations. You must be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the various media in order to make the right choices for your business. Let's look at some of the advantages offered by promotional products.

Unlike newspapers and television, which are mass media, promotional products are one of the targeted media. Newspapers and television are fine when you want to deliver your message to the most people you can possibly reach. But in this mass audience are many people who are not interested in what you have to sell. Consequently, you must also look for promotional efficiency. This is provided by the targeted media-direct mail, trade press and specialty advertising-because they can deliver your message only to prospects, thereby saving you the expense of buying non-productive circulation.

Notice that advertising specialties products are defined as useful articles of merchandise. Because they are useful, at least to varying degrees, they are kept and used by recipients. Each time the items are referred to, the advertiser's name and message get exposure. The recipient doesn't always consciously note the ad, of course, but the message is entered into the individual's memory and can be recalled at the appropriate time.

Advertising recall is important, but so often advertisers don't achieve this sought-after benefit from the media they use. What good does it do when the TV viewer chuckles over a clever commercial but can't remember the name of the sponsor?

When it comes to ad budgets, small businesses obviously cannot compete with corporate giants. Budget limitations severely restrict the small entrepreneur's use of some of the costlier mass media. Fortunately, specialty advertising comes in a lot of price ranges. There are, remember, 15,000 different types of specialties, some costing several dollars and some only a few cents apiece. So there are specialties available to any advertiser, regardless of how small the budget.

How consumers react to your advertising is important. If they are offended or indifferent to it, you have not gained from your promotional investment. Specialty advertising, however, carries with it an ingratiation factor. People like to get something for nothing, regardless of how inexpensive the item may be. They tend to look favorably on companies giving them free specialties. There is statistical evidence that people prefer to patronize businesses giving specialties as opposed to those that do not, all things being equal.

Another unique attribute of advertising specialties is that it permits advertisers to personalize the message. Suppose out of all your customers and prospects there are a hundred or so key ones you want to concentrate on. Because you probably can identify them by name, you can give added value to the advertising item you send them by imprinting their name on it. The favorable reaction to this kind of message enhancement can never be overstated.

As you can see, there are several advantages offered by advertising specialties, some of which cannot be found in other media. Specialties also have some limitations. One has to do with the amount of copy space available. On a ball-point pen, for example, there usually isn't enough space to imprint more than the advertiser's name and address. To overcome this deficiency, advertisers often distribute a printed companion piece with the specialty, and this flyer or brochure contains the reasons to purchase.

Another liability is the comparatively long production and delivery time sometimes required to implement a specialty advertising promotion. Even stock items ordered right out of a manufacturer's catalog sometimes take four to eight weeks for delivery. Consequently, the business owner who plans to hold a clearance sale the following week may find his or her purpose better served by using newspaper ads and TV or radio spots.

Another drawback worth mentioning is the difficulty one finds in measuring the results of many specialty promotions. Of course, this is a problem with other media, too. Unless a method of evaluation is built into the advertising specialties, the business owner may have no evidence the promotion is doing him or her any good. Indeed, some types of promotions offer no practical means of measuring their effectiveness. This doesn't mean the promotion shouldn't be undertaken. A simple promotion to achieve goodwill for the business owner may do just that, but it is difficult to weigh that goodwill and translate it into sales.