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QR Code Drives PSA Campaign

The QR code has become a popular choice of late, and it was instrumental to the success of a recent campaign from the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) aimed at trying to get people to stop texting while driving.

To keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, MDX embarked on a national awareness campaign that would communicate the true danger of texting while driving and try to increase awareness enough to create a law banning texting and driving. Instead of taking the gory, shocking route, MDX chose to connect emotionally with drivers, showing the damage that can be done to those left behind.

MDX teamed up with Ronin Advertising Group to produce a short film entitled The Last Word, which is about the aftermath for families of victims of texting while driving. Ronin also developed a comprehensive communications strategy, including extensive social media outreach, the creation of industry partnerships and a consistent presence at local and national events.

One unique component of the campaign was the use of T-shirts with QR codes to get the message out. When scanned with a smartphone, the QR code brought a user directly to the film/website. In all, 10,000 T-shirts were distributed at key events, including the Miami-Dade College graduation, as a gift to all new graduates in a bag labeled “this bag will save your life.”

The students received the shirt and gift bag after they signed a pledge to not text and drive, with a branded mini Sharpie keychain that they were also able to keep as a reminder. “We created the shirts because we wanted the students to watch the film and pass it on to their family and friends, but knew that the venue where we would have the most access to them was not necessarily the best one for them to interact with the film,” says Karen Ableman, president of Ronin Advertising Group.

Ableman recognized that the audience was interested in and familiar with new technology. “We provided them with a piece that they could keep and easily scan at any time and be taken directly to The Last Word, which they could watch on their mobile device – a particularly poignant way of receiving the message, considering it is about texting and driving,” she says.

In addition to T-shirts, Ronin developed a postcard with a QR code that was launched at the Miami Corporate Run in order to continue the buzz and further convey the message.

To date, there have been more than 30,000 views of the film on YouTube. There has been extensive media coverage of the campaign, as well as a highly active Facebook page and positive feedback from other companies and individuals looking to join in supporting the cause.

Cause Marketers Find Success With Targeted Messages

When it comes to promoting a cause, marketers are finding that it’s best to get specific. Targeting certain customer segments and using signature cause products is increasingly popular among nonprofit and charity organizations looking to engage consumers and corporate sponsors.

Whether it’s LiveStrong’s iconic yellow bracelet, or the American Heart Association’s (AHA) red-dress pin given as a thank-you to those donating to its Go Red campaign (focused on women’s heart heath), these products not only give donors something tangible for their gifts, but are something of a badge of honor that gives them social currency with friends and family.

“It’s about awareness building, and strengthening affinity with that cause,” says Anne Erhard, vice president of cause branding and nonprofit marketing for the firm Cone, which developed the Go Red effort. “Within these campaigns are a lot of areas for consumer segmentation,” she adds. Cone has helped the AHA develop several targeted campaigns, including the Power to End Stroke, aimed at African Americans, and Start!, urging physical activity for the general American population. 

For-profit companies both large and small are promoting their cause-marketing efforts through similar strategies. Blue Sky Scrubs, which sells stylish scrubs for female health professionals, announced in mid-September that it would donate a fashionable hospital cap to a cancer patient for every set of scrubs purchased.

“We just recently started promoting this charitable aspect,” says David Marquardt, CEO of Blue Sky Scrubs. “We realized that it was kind of a growing area and we wanted to make as big of an impact as possible.”

The economy has certainly presented challenges for the nonprofit sector, but it remains a major user of promotional products. Organizations like Autism Speaks offer full online stores that not only offer ways to donate and support the cause, but segment their messages for the time of year (Autism Speaks recently targeted its message around a back-to-school theme).

Indicative of the growing significance of marketing in the nonprofit sector, the American Marketing Association recently hosted its first Senior Nonprofit Marketers' Summit in Chicago, bringing together 18 top executives from American Red Cross, AARP, United Way, American Lung Association and others to discuss strategies.

“The nonprofit sector has always been a vibrant, but not always well-recognized, marketing sector,” says Cynthia Currence, chair of the conference. “If ever there was a time to use all the levers that are available, it’s now, and marketing has been a perennially underused function for these organizations.”

But while these marketing areas are growing, charitable events remain a mainstay for nonprofits seeking to strengthen their appeal. “Events are the most traditional outlets nonprofits use for promotional items, but the ways they are using them are changing,” says Erhard. “Now you find sophisticated pop-up stores, rather than just a T-shirt. Also goodie bags at the end of the event, and promotional tents co-sponsored with corporate sponsors, with co-branded items and products and sampling.”

Promotional Products

The most significant findings of the impressions study show advertising specialties are less expensive per impression than most other media and are very affordable and effective when compared to other forms of media.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Cost per Impression. In the U.S., the cost per impression of a promotional product stayed virtually the same from 2008 to 2010, at .005 cents.
  • Identifying the Advertiser. Eighty-three percent in the U.S. say they can identify the advertiser on a promotional item they own.
  • Product Usage. Bags have the highest number of impressions in a month, over 1,000, and over one-third (36%) of those with incomes under $50,000 own bags.
  • Gender Preferences. Males are more likely than females to own shirts and caps, while females are more likely to have bags, writing instruments, calendars and health and safety products.
  • Ethnic Preferences. African Americans have more promotional products on average (11.3) than any other group.
  • Positive Reinforcement. Seventy-five percent of independent voters prefer consumer-branded products; nearly 1.5 times more than Democrats or Republicans.
  • Influencing User Opinions. Forty-one percent of U.S. respondents say their opinion of the advertiser is more favorable after receiving a promotional product.
  • Global Reach. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents from Great Britain have received and kept a pen in the last 12 months. In the U.S., writing instruments are used the most often, an average of 18.2 times per month.
  • Superior Pass Along. After receiving a promotional product they don’t plan to keep, nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents in the U.S. say they give the item to someone else.
  • Popular Products. The most commonly owned promotional products among U.S. respondents are writing instruments (46%), followed by shirts (38%) and calendars (24%).

At $0.005, the average cost-per-impression (CPI) of an advertising specialty item is less than nearly any other media. According to data obtained by ASI the CPI for a national magazine ad is $0.045; for a newspaper ad, $0.029; for a prime-time TV ad, $0.018; for a cable prime-time TV ad, $0.005; for a syndicated daytime TV ad, $0.005; and for a spot radio ad, $0.058.

To complete its research, ASI conducted a total of 3,332 online and in-person surveys, including interviews with businesspeople in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, London, Sydney, Toronto and Montreal metro areas.

The 2.0 study, a follow-up to the definitive 2008 survey, includes new demographic information on politics, ethnicity, gender and age, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser. This year, the comprehensive report also adds global markets and includes more products, such as automotive accessories and food.

Backlash Over Walmart T-Shirts Portraying Negative Ethnic Stereotype

A New York man of Irish ancestry is calling for a boycott of Walmart's online store because the retailer's website is selling St. Patrick's Day-themed tees that feature images and messaging that promote negative stereotypes about Irish people being drunks.

After Kevin Westley, a radio show host and Irish dance instructor from Long Island, found a slew of shirts on that bore such portrayals, he began calling for the boycott. A search for "St. Patrick's Day shirts drunk" on makes it evident that Westley isn't making things up. See pictures below for examples from the site.

Back in 2015, Westley took up a similar cause when he bought hundreds of St. Patrick's Day T-shirts with stereotypical portrayals that were on sale at his local Walmart – just to clear them from the shelves. He then returned the tees on March 18. Westley's actions gained ample media attention and led at least a couple Walmarts in his area to desist in carrying such shirts.

Still, tees like "Kiss Me I'm Irish or Drunk or Whatever" and "Loud Proud Drunk Irish" remain available for purchase on And, Westley wants to change that.

"All stereotypes are bad, regardless what group they demean," Westley states, according to IrishCentral. "Think of the thousands of job or housing opportunities that have been lost because of them. If you agree with me, please call Walmart corporate office on their toll-free line at 1-800-925-6278. Better yet, 'contact' them at and let them know what you think about these T-shirts."

Westley has stated that, so far, Walmart has not replied to him.

IrishCentral has thrown support behind Westley, and encouraged site visitors to confront other retailers about St. Patrick's Day-related merchandise they find offensive. Suggestions include asking stores to remove the merchandise, while explaining that St. Patrick's Day is a holy day in Ireland and asking stores if they "would sell offensive stereotypical T-shirts for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Puerto Rican Day, St. Joseph's Day, etc."

If retailers refuse to remove the merchandise, IrishCentral suggests taking a page from Westley's book and buying up the merch, then returning it after St. Patrick's Day.

Company Aims To Revolutionize The 'Swag Bag'

Another disruptor has entered the promotional products industry, with her sights set on revolutionizing the swag bag. How? With what some are calling the anti-swag swag bag.

Lynne Lambert is the founder of the popular NYC Subway Line collection of mass-transit merchandise. From T-shirts and hoodies to hats and backpacks, her brand of clothing and accessories pays tribute to the Big Apple and all of its iconic elements. She has taken that same geographical approach with her new company: Mapt Gear.

"Many of us are not comfortable being a free walking advertisement for a company," Lambert told Adweek, "and many companies aren't doing anything more than putting logos in big text across the products. So I think there's room for a very tasteful product to come in."

Using a license to access a cartographic library, Mapt Gear imprints canvas totes with maps that pinpoint the location of a brand's headquarters -- or its various locations, or even the location of a conference it's having. The idea is that the image of an antique map with a pushpin will arouse enough curiosity and interest in a company without splashing its logo all over a product. However, the customizable map does leave enough room for a brand's name or logo – done subtly.

New York-based Mapt Gear currently offers three styles: a Gucci Nylon messenger bag, a 100% cotton tote bag and a silky 100% Poly/Canvas tote bag. Also available is a "Pad-Folio" iPad case made of vegan leather. If Mapt Gear generates sufficient interest from corporate clients, Lambert says she'll expand the product line.

Religious Freedom, Anti-Gay Discrimination Collide In Court Case Over T-Shirts

A Kentucky apparel decorating company and the imprinted T-shirts the business declined to print for a gay pride festival are at the center of a renewed court battle that pits arguments for freedom of conscience and religion against accusations of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

The case involving Hands On Originals (asi/219413), a Lexington, KY-based company that specializes in producing branded apparel for Christian organizations, schools and others, is before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Blaine Adamson

Last May, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hands On Originals (HOO), a verdict that marked the second court victory for the company, which previously prevailed in 2015 in the Fayette Circuit Court. Nonetheless, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission appealed the 2017 ruling and the case is now to be heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The issue began in 2012 when the Lexington-based Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) asked HOO to print shirts for its pride festival. HOO Owner Blaine Adamson declined the order, saying that printing shirts that bear certain messaging would conflict with his conscience and religious beliefs as a devout Christian. Adamson has said that he offered up another print shop that would produce the order for the same price.

In reaction to Adamson's refusal, the GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission and HOO was charged with violating Lexington's fairness ordinance, which, in part, prevents businesses open in a public forum from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.

An initial ruling went against HOO, but that decision was reversed in the subsequent Fayette Circuit Court decision, reports show. In that 2015 ruling, Judge James D. Ishmael cited Kentucky's religious freedom statue and stated that Adamson was not refusing the GLSO as would-be customers because of their sexual orientation, but because he objected to the message on the T-shirt. "It is clear beyond dispute that HOO and its owners declined to print the T-shirts in question because of the message advocating sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman," Ishmael wrote. "The well-established Constitutional rights of HOO and its owners on this issue are well settled." In 2017, the appeals court ruled that HOO's right to free speech supersedes Lexington's fairness ordinance.

In the latest court battle, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin recently filed a legal brief in support of HOO, saying Kentucky's constitution ensures freedom of conscience. "Requiring (HOO's) owners to engage in speech with which they disagree is a violation of their freedom of conscience, and we are hopeful that the Kentucky Supreme Court will reaffirm this bedrock of Kentucky's constitutional charter," said Steve Pitt, Bevin's general counsel, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.

Josh Mers, chairman of Lexington Fairness, an organization that works for fairness and equality in Kentucky, told the Lexington Herald Leader that arguments for freedom of conscience are a "tired old message" that do not have bearing on the HOO case. "I think the most disappointing part is that the governor has decided to add the political aspect to the case by weighing in as the Governor of Kentucky," said Mers, who is running for a seat in Kentucky's state house.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Adamson and his company. In a video posted to ADF's YouTube account, Adamson explained his reasons for declining the order from GLSO.

Also, in an online commentary, Adamson has said: "I've happily served and employed people of all backgrounds, of all walks of life.... I have gay customers and employ gay people. For example, we have printed materials for a local band called Mother Jane whose lead singer is a lesbian. That was never a problem for us because ... we'll work with everyone, but we can't print all messages." Adamson added that he has declined other orders, including one for "a simple black shirt with white text that read, 'Homosexuality is a sin.'…I don't think that's how Jesus would have handled the issue; Jesus would have balanced grace and truth."