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Making Sense of Sustainability

About 53 years ago, marketing changed!

12/8/2022 | Gregg Emmer, Marketing Matters

About 53 years ago (April 22, 1970), marketing changed! The first “Earth Day” was recognized worldwide. Kids had programs in school, ad media was dominated with programming providing information on how we needed to all cooperate to save the planet from total destruction! We became educated on conserving water, energy and taming global warming while making sure the ozone layer didn’t continue to deplete.

Virtually none of the predicted doom came to pass. Today the scientists at AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) are reasonably sure that we will be living in a mini ice age within the next 15 years. So much for global warming!

Sustainability is not new. It is simply a catchall term for all the terms that were previously used but is far less specific. The older terms, Green Marketing, Climate Change, Global Warming, Carbon Footprint, Environmental Impact and others were too specific and too easily shown to be less than accurate when the terrible predictions failed to show up.

At the same time “Sustainability” was developing, two generations of people have been born, attended schools and adopted the belief that all this is accurate and real. The important thing to remember is that as far as marketing is concerned - it doesn’t matter if it is real or not!

The generation(s) now sitting in the client seat at an ever increasing number of businesses believe what they were told and want to participate in Sustainability to be good world citizens. Unfortunately our amazing industry -Promotional Products Media- has a long history of being labeled as a  problem not a solution! Our industry has been wrongly accused of supplying primarily new “landfill”. 

The truth

There have always been places for fun, entertaining, clever marketing that utilized promotional products for the short term impact they provide. Decorations for business meetings, disposable cups for visiting customers and many other items were designed for temporary use. A substantial and growing list of promotional products, however, support and facilitate Sustainability and have for many years!

A single reusable water bottle that is in use for 3 years will keep more than a thousand disposable bottles out of the landfill. I have bike bottles that are ten years old and going strong! Shopping totes are now getting as popular as they are in Europe where single use plastic bags were eliminated (generally speaking) years ago. The average grocery checkout requires 5 disposable bags or 250 of them on a yearly basis. One large promotional grocery tote can eliminate that contribution to the garbage heap. A newer addition to the trip to the market are reusable produce bags. Microfiber cleaning cloths eliminate hundreds of disposable wipes for eyeglasses and smartphone screens. Refrigerator storage containers preserve foods that were discarded in the past. Wipe off white boards and notebooks eliminate all the paper use of the past. And most of the merchandise in our industry is recyclable.

When it comes to delivering ad impressions, conventional print media would need a truck full of paper to print enough ads to equal the thousands of impressions of a single promotional item. Online advertising needs to be “delivered” to be seen. A promotional item is always there getting the job done. 

As advertising goes - print, broadcast, online, event, direct mail - promotional is actually the most Sustainable of all of them. The material and energy used to produce a promotional item is far less than is necessary to create similar ad impressions by the other media. 

It certainly is not necessary to avoid conversations on sustainability. By being aware of the true impact promotional products have due to the durability of the media, ability to target the best prospects and eliminate waste, offset many disposable products and keep them from landfills and continue to create ad impressions, sometimes for years, is powerful information that will allow your clients (customers) to feel good about choosing promotional products media to grow their business.

Gregg Emmer is chief marketing officer and vice president at Kaeser & Blair, Inc. He has more than 40 years experience in marketing and the promotional products industry. His outside consultancy provides marketing, public relations and business planning consulting to a wide range of other businesses and has been a useful knowledge base for K&B Dealers. Contact Gregg at
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