ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Business and Employment»
  • Marketing & Sales

Promotional Products are Not Toys

Updated on November 24, 2014
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a promotional products expert and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.


Had a conversation going on Twitter about the best promotional giveaways for trade shows. (I voted for sticky notes. My favorite!) But one of my pals tweeted that he's on the lookout for items for his daughter.

This is a very common occurrence at trade shows. Parents and grandparents go "shopping" for the kids as they cruise the exhibit floor. However, it is a dangerous practice as we'll see in a bit. It is also a sad commentary on the exhibitors and their promotional product choices.

I'm going to be as blunt as I can about this:

Promotional products are NOT toys!

Promos used as toys present a host of troubling issues for marketers.

More Insight into Children's Products

Safety and CPSC Issues

Unless specifically manufactured as toys or children's items, most promotional products are manufactured for use by people over age 12. Some items may even have higher age minimums depending on their purpose. For example, items that are related to alcohol or smoking would not be appropriate to give to anyone under drinking and smoking age.

Common promotional items such as pens, notepads, keys, etc. are usually considered "general use" items. Though children may come in contact with general use items, that doesn't automatically make it a children's product. But it can truly be a gray area.

Under Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines, if a general use product has features that would be attractive or appropriate for a child, it may have the possibility of being considered a children's product. What are some of the features that the CPSC has identified?

  • Small sizes that would be uncomfortable for adults.
  • Exaggerated features, such as large buttons.
  • Colors commonly associated with childhood (brights, pinks, blues).
  • Decorative motifs associated with childhood (dolls, animals, clowns, alphabets, etc.)
  • Features that don't improve the product's utility, but would increase attractiveness to children (i.e. cartoon characters).

For more information on definitions of children's products, check out these resources from the CPSC:

In my opinion, stress balls cause the greatest difficulty in this category. Sure, they are not intended for use by children, but they are oh so attractive for kids. Over the years I've even had inquiries about purchasing them specifically to give to children and sometimes pets. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Can you hear me screaming? Stress balls are not manufactured to children's product safety standards and are NOT toys.

You may be thinking, "Okay, so what?" Well, once an item is classified as a "toy" or "children's product" and/or is intended to be given to and used by children, it needs to be in compliance for materials, construction, chemical content and more. Additional testing and documentation may be required. There may also be a requirement to include tracking labeling on the product to be referenced in the event of a claim.

Here's an example. A company was thinking about doing a custom stuffed toy to give to kids as a promotion. They had done them in the past. But since that time, new standards had been introduced. When I chatted with the manufacturer, he said that testing for lead content would have to be done which would cost several hundred dollars.

Got clients with furry four-legged dog and cat "kids?" Promotional products are NOT toys for them either! Look for product choices identified as pet-friendly and confirm with your distributor what makes them so. Always think SAFETY FIRST!


The Saddest Loss from Using Playful Promotional Products

If the safety issues don't have marketers nervous, this should. When a promotional product is given to a child as a plaything, what is its marketing impact? I'll be bold enough to say ZERO! The kids are buying NOTHING from the company giving the promotion... at least not for a couple decades.

Now it can be said that the trade show visitor who collects cute promos to give to the kiddies will feel more positively toward the company that gave them out and be encouraged to do business. A bit of a stretch in my opinion, although there are exceptions. For example, if a company provides child-safe coloring books to occupy or educate kids while parents take care of business might score a few points with the parents. But it's unlikely to be a long term impact.

So what should marketers consider when choosing items that'll find a home where they need to be... in actual adult customers' hands or offices?

  • Watch for the Cute Factor. Cute and colorful promotions—no matter visually appealing or clever they are—have a high likelihood of being considered toys and being passed on to children. Plus, they dance on the dangerous edge of needing to pass children's product standards as discussed earlier.
  • Choose Age Appropriate. No matter how cool or clever an item seems, consider the age of the person who will be receiving the item. If the item appears to be a toy, adults may not only automatically give it to kids, they may also automatically reject accepting the item in the first place.
  • Consider Utility. How will recipients use the item? Thinking that business people will find an item so cute they'll want it on their desks is wishful thinking. (I've had customer inquiries along these lines!) Look for items that relate to the product or service being sold, as well as to the lifestyle and workstyle of recipients. Here's an example. Had a client who was considering a desk item for his customers. However, most of his customers were road warriors. An auto-friendly item would be more preferred by this crowd.

Promotional products are expensive. Don't waste the investment by purchasing items that'll likely end up in a kid's toy box.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Elizabeth/epbooks! I'm a pens and stickies person, too. Like 'em better than getting a free T shirt. :) Hope you're having a great week!

  • epbooks profile image

    Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

    Excellent advice! I usually like the sticky notes OR if it is a good pen, I like those too. :)

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi CMHypno! I've seen the swarms of locusts, too. That's frightening enough in itself. :) You actually make a good point about securing your personal items. Just went to a promotional trade show yesterday and it would have been so easy for visitors to wipe out an entire showcased collection. You're right in that most people assume items are okay for kids. Yikes! Thanks for stopping by and adding your experience. Have a beautiful day!

  • CMHypno profile image

    CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    Interesting Heidi, as I had never thought of promotional products in that way. In my experience of trade shows, most people are like locusts hoovering up anything they can get their hands on and you have to literally tie your own personal pens down. I suppose if they can score a free fluffy toy from a stand it saves having to buy the kids a gift and I don't suppose too many people will consider the potential safety issues, they'll just assume the item is ol

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi FlourishAnyway! Indeed, anyone who's attended a lot of trade shows can easily summon up tons of examples of "what not to give." I sometimes get nervous just walking the show floor. Thanks for proving the point! Also, LOVE the new avatar! So nice to see your smiling face!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hey there, billybuc! Yep, it seems like such a simple matter, but it gets really complicated. Thanks for starting out your week here!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    Excellent information, Heidi. Having gone to many trade shows I can recall some of the offenders ... the stress balls in the shapes of cartoon characters, clappers, razor sharp envelope cutters and DVD openers, bobble heads, beanies, colorful slime, etc.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Yes indeedy! I make it a point never to argue with a pro. :)

    Have a great week.