For Promotional Product Sales, Protect Your Client’s Brand

Whether you are selling to a global brand like Nike or to your local YMCA, no single asset is more valuable to your client than the client’s good name. Sell them a promotional product that enhances their brand and you’re likely to have a happy customer for a long time. Sell a product that embarrasses the brand and the cost for everyone involved could be astronomical.

Consider a case involving the Winn Dixie and Publix grocery chains. In November 2010 investigative reporters from the Tampa Tribune purchased about two dozen reusable grocery bags and sent them to a lab to test whether or not the bags contained lead and other toxic metals. Some of the bags tested high for lead so the newspaper featured the story in its Sunday edition that week. Instantly the story went viral on the Internet and became the headline story on news broadcasts nationwide all weekend. The lead discovered in these bags was relatively low—less than 200 parts per million—and product safety lawyers struggled to find any regulation that had been violated, but none of that mattered. The story alone was damage enough. By Monday morning, Senator Charles Schumer of New York was on the floor of the U.S. Senate demanding that the FDA ban all reusable grocery bags containing lead. “When our families go to the grocery store looking for safe and healthy foods to feed their kids, the last thing they should have to worry about are toxic bags,” said Schumer. Both grocery chains, and eventually several others, announced nationwide recalls. Aside from the millions of dollars in recall costs, damage to the reputation of these brands was enormous. For these grocery chains, all of their efforts to reinforce a “you can trust us” message was undone in one weekend.

The reusable grocery bag story is significant but not unusual. For better or for worse, ever since the millions of Chinese-made Barbie dolls were recalled for lead paint violations in what has become known as the Summer of Recalls—August 2007—the promotional products industry has had to deal with a new reality—the world of product safety, regulatory compliance and responsible sourcing.

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