I received this pen (pictured above) in the mail the other day. It’s okay as far as ballpoint pens go, but definitely nothing to write home about.

The pen was from one of those promotional products places, based in the US (I live in Melbourne, Australia, so not sure why I received it). They’d gone to all the trouble of printing my company name on the side, albeit it’s not the name I trade under. And it’s not the best printing job I’ve ever seen on a pen either. But I digress …

Along with the pen, they mailed a mini-catalogue of sorts and included an order form plus something else. I can’t be sure of the exact content ‘cos everything went straight into the bin (except the pen – hey, I needed some reward for opening the envelope!). Anyway, it appeared sufficient paper was involved that a couple of trees were probably sacrificed in the process.

This pen reeked of lazy old-school marketing:

  • The company obviously rented a list of Australian companies and ‘shotgun mailed’ to those on it (hence sending it to my official, but not trading, name). They had absolutely no connection to me whatsoever.
  • I have never inquired about the company’s promotional pens nor have I subscribed to any content they’ve produced – this was an interruptive marketing tactic, pure and simple.
  • Do the people responsible know what the exchange rate of the Aussie dollar is against the greenback? Adds roughly 30 per cent to the price if I was to purchase anything (which I didn’t). This is a pretty big disincentive you would have thought.
  • The costs involved in renting the list, printing the pens individually (not a huge cost, I know, but they would add up), designing and printing all the promo guff, and then mailing to Australia – all on the off-chance someonemight actually open the envelope, get excited about seeing their company name on an everyday garden-variety ballpoint pen (yaaaay!), and then shell out 30 per cent more than their US counterparts to purchase said pens in quantity … and pay for them to be shipped to Oz. Really?

This is classic ‘throw-mud-at-the-wall-and-see-if-any-of-it-sticks’ marketing that was de rigueur many years ago.

But here’s the scary thing. We still see a fair bit of it around today despite the fact the marketing landscape has changed fundamentally, and people – i.e. those who buy stuff! – have become incredibly adept at blocking out such interruptive tactics (Hello? It’s more likely you will survive a plane crash or win the lottery than click a banner ad, yet companies still buy banner ads en masse!).

But, what do I know?

Maybe the promo pen people have done the sums and there is a paper-thin ROI in it for them. Spray far and wide enough – and pray long and hard enough – and who knows what riches you may enjoy as a result.

One thing’s pretty certain you’d think – the marketers working at Promo Pen Inc. (see what I did there?) are about as imaginative as those who employ telemarketers to ring my home phone (and yours!) with alarming regularity.

P.S. Thanks for the pen guys. I’d mention your company name but I can’t remember what it was :)\