In the marketing world, ubiquity is king, and there is perhaps no product more ubiquitous than the stress reducer. Think about it: what desk, what workstation, what cubicle is complete without one? A promotional pen might spend much of its life in a drawer or buried under those forms you've been meaning to file, but a stress ball—with all its potential for quirky, colorful and eye-catching design—is a conversation piece, a reflection of its owner's personality. A stress reducer demands not just to be squeezed, but to be displayed—and that means a whole lot of brand visibility.
"Great, I'll take 35,000!" you might be exclaiming. But there's more to stress reducers than smiley faces, soft foam and shouting large numbers to no one in particular. In order to capitalize on the substantial promotional opportunities offered by stress reducers, you need to be prepared. You need to know all about durometer (or hardness) and its effect on imprint quality. You need to understand the capabilities and limitations of different printing methods. And most importantly, you need to get creative.
KEEPING IT REAL
Blind date-goers and Pittsburgh Pirates fans discovered long ago that realistic expectations are essential for success, and many industry insiders agree that the same can be said for any marketing campaign involving stress reducers. If this seems like a defeatist attitude, it's not. The reality is there are unique challenges present in the manufacture of stress reducers not found in the production of pens, water bottles or other promotional goods.
Eric Levin, CEO and founder of Jetline, Gaffney, S.C., cited the porous qualities and varying durometer of polyurethane—the primary material used in stress reducer construction—as the main culprits. "On a hard plastic product it's kind of like screen printing onto paper; imagine printing on a sponge—not so easy," Levin said. "Make sure that your client understands that the orientation [of the imprint] from unit to unit is going to vary slightly based on the durometer of the stress ball."
Of course, minor inconsistencies aren't going to show up in a catalog, meaning distributors should do their homework and make sure they're comfortable with a given product before committing to an order. "Be aware that no two stress reducers are exactly the same," explained Aaron Bradley, sales coordinator for Chicago-based American Greenwood. "These are manufactured by hand so color, density and size will vary slightly. This is important to let the end-user know before placing an order."
Jennifer Torres, assistant national sales manager for Jornik Manufacturing, Stamford, Conn., recommended that distributors thoroughly test each sample's imprint retention after repeated use, in order to make sure that any branding remains intact. "Whenever possible, always order an imprinted sample of the product," she noted. "Play with the item as much as possible to see how well it holds up to the abuse."
Levin agreed, but took it a step further. "When you're showing the product to your client, order two samples, maybe even three," he said. "Say, 'Here are the samples, notice there is a slight variation from unit to unit, no two units are going to be exactly the same.'"
Still, it doesn't matter how well an imprint holds up if it doesn't look good to begin with, and achieving a high-quality imprint means choosing the right decoration process for a particular stress reducer. Of the two widely-used methods—pad printing and screen printing (silk-screening)—the latter is generally considered preferable. "As a rule, a silk-screened logo will have greater longevity because it requires a thicker coat of ink than pad printing," said Paula Shulman, vice president of sales for Prime Line, Bridgeport, Conn. "When stress relievers age, what appears to be cracking is actually the spongy material absorbing the ink," she continued. "Since silk-screening provides greater ink coverage, this process tends to stand up better to absorption and will look better over time than pad printing."
But silk-screening is only effective on flat surfaces, and with the majority of stress reducers being rounded, pad printing must often be used. Shulman explained that, while a flat object can be decorated in a virtually unlimited number of colors, most pad-printing techniques on round surfaces can accommodate at best a four-color imprint, depending on the artwork.
In that regard, Torres recommends keeping it simple when it comes to imprint design. "On items that are squeezable, it is best to not imprint small text or detail, as it may fill in when the pad presses down on the item," she stated.
THINK OUTSIDE THE SPHERE
While there's nothing wrong with the tried-and-true polyurethane ball, a little innovation can go a long way toward maximizing the promotional capabilities of stress-reducing products. One example of such forward thinking is Prime Line's Belly Wobbler, a stress reliever with a weighted base and magnetized hands for holding paper clips, which proved to be the perfect giveaway at a magnetics company's trade show booth. "Because of the added magnet feature, the end-buyer was able to effectively communicate its 'magnetic message' by offering a desk item with functionality," Shulman explained. "It also helped the end-buyer stand out from the competition, because the Belly Wobbler was so different from what other exhibitors were handing out."
And while the adjective "high-tech" is seldom the first to come to mind when envisioning stress reducers, there are indeed brave pioneers who have reimagined the seemingly simple products for the digital age—and reaped considerable rewards in the process. Tom Miller, marketing supervisor for Ariel Premium Supply, St. Louis, Mo., detailed one such instance, in which an urgent care center gave away a bandage-shaped stress reliever with a QR code imprinted on the reverse side. "On the landing page that the QR code directed to, they added a pop-up survey that asked questions to participants to help improve the quality of service," explained Miller. "The data was configured by Google Analytics, [which] measured that the facility had increased awareness by 27 percent."