7 Big Promotional Products Trends We Noticed at PPAI Expo 2020
See ya later, Vegas! All week long, Promo Marketing was reporting live from the PPAI Expo 2020 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. If you were at the show, we hope you had a great time and learned a lot. If you weren't there, we made sure to include product information, session wrap-ups and a whole lot more in our newsletter. Up now: a roundup of the big promotional products trends we saw at the show.
The PPAI Expo is always a good place to see new products, but if you know where to look, it's also a place to discover the overall trends taking shape in promo. Still, the show is huge, so it's not always easy to see the bigger picture, especially when you're running around to meetings and lunches and happy hours (and petting all the very good doggos).
That's why we did the work for you. Below is a breakdown of some of the big promotional products trends we were able to suss out during our time at the show. There might be some more that we missed, but these were the ones that stood out—strong indicators of the direction promo is heading, so you can get a head start on 2020 and beyond. Let us know if there's any others (and be sure to check out our apparel trends roundup, too). Let's go!
1. Suppliers Go Big on Sustainability
The eco-friendly trend has been growing over the past few years (it was our top trend in last year's PPAI Expo Product Trends recap), but it now feels like it's really picking up steam. Nearly every supplier we visited had some sort of eco-friendly or eco-conscious product on display, and we even overheard distributor attendees asking some suppliers what eco-friendly options they had. (One supplier, who we won't name, did not have any eco-friendly products available, much to a distributor's disappointment.)
Still, some suppliers stood out from the pack with some truly innovative or cutting-edge options. Goldstar was showing off its Espresso Pen, made from 30 percent recycled coffee grounds, and its Farina Wheat Pen, made from 35 percent reclaimed wheat straw. In our time at the booth, at least a dozen attendees stopped to look at these two items, both of which feature slick textured barrels and ColorJet decoration.
Webb Company also had an impressive display of products in its Wheat Straw line, which features items made from biodegradable wheat straw polypropylene. There are mugs, lunch boxes, utensil sets, cups, drinking straws and even an all-natural lip balm in a wheat straw container. The material is designed to degrade in as little as one year once in a landfill, making the items almost infinitely more eco-friendly than traditional plastics.
We covered the refresh of Leed's EcoSmart line in 2019, but at this year's Expo other PCNA brands were getting on board, too. JournalBooks was one of them, with eco-friendly journal options headlining its 2020 Preview catalog. Those options include recycled natural hard covers and filler paper, post-consumer recycled fabric hard covers, recycled bonded leather and more.
Having a few good coasters rather than flimsy paper ones makes a big difference. Sometimes the paper ones get soggy after just one use and end up in the trash. If you're concerned about your nice wooden furniture (which you should be), this removable rubber coaster from High Caliber Line is a good one to pick up.
You can protect your eyes while you save the planet with these sunglasses from Eyevertising, which come in a variety of eco-conscious options. You can either go with wood, recycled plastic, recycled wheat or a biodegradable option. It's 2020, and there's no excuse for buyers to be ignorant of ways they can make a difference for the environment on a daily basis.
Speaking of wooden options, Bamboo Studios took a page out of the giant panda's playbook and went with a bamboo-centric existence. Using natural products means less plastic waste and an energy-inefficient manufacturing processes. Plus, bamboo is sturdy and aesthetically appealing, so what's not to love?
Lotus Trolley Bag makes grocery shopping easy with their eco-friendly and reusable organizing bags that fit perfectly into your cart. Plus, there’s also an insulated one that keeps items cool until you arrive home.
2. Cannabis Is Now Mainstream
With recreational cannabis legal in an increasing amount of states in the U.S. and on a federal level in Canada, distributors would be wise to look for promotional opportunities relating to cannabis the same way they do for craft beer or bars.
OK, this first one isn't actual cannabis, but with the growth in understanding of cannabis comes a boom in hemp products, which has been used as a sturdy natural material for a long, long time. Eco Hempware had a nice display of household items made from hemp, adding another solid substitution for artificial materials.
For states with legal dispensaries, promotional items like rolling papers and other accessories are a useful way to market the brand. Cannabis Promotions has gotten in on the trend's infancy to work with dispensaries, and distributors in places like Illinois that recently legalized should definitely start giving that some thought.
Speaking of dispensaries, it's important to remember that they're businesses just like any other. With that in mind, they're not only using cannabis-related items. They'll still want to use items like this one from Amerifoam.
3. Boxier or Heavyweight T-Shirts
Fashion is cyclical, so as the slimmer-fitting silhouettes of the 2010s give way to '90s-inspired, boxier, heavier T-shirts, apparel companies are offering bulkier looks and feels.
Hanes was heavily promoting its Beefy T, which involved someone in a bull costume strutting around the show floor. We always appreciate a good live mascot, and we appreciate a fashion-forward T-shirt even more. (Well, almost more.)
Next Level Apparel was also changing the T-shirt fit game. Known for its side-seamed styles, the supplier this year introduced its Unisex Ideal Heavyweight Crew, a tubular cut with a heavier construction and a drop shoulder. (Think Southern California surfer cool.) The shirt is also a venture into value tees for Next Level, as it has a lower price point that makes it available to a larger chunk of the market than some of the supplier's other styles.
4. Smartphone Grips Are Still Huge
No one wants to be the person with a spider-webbed smartphone screen. For one thing, it's a good way to cut your fingers up. For another, it's pretty difficult to read or look at pictures on a cracked screen. So, suppliers are offering a lot of ways for end-users to keep a grip on their phones.
PopSockets are still hugely popular, and iClick has made them a big part of their Expo display. There are tons of different styles of them, so no matter what look end-buyers are looking for, there's a PopSocket for that. They're going to be even more popular with the news that PopSocket is introducing a wireless charger specifically made for smartphones with a PopSocket grip.
If PopSockets aren't your thing and you want to have something wrapped around your finger, these grips from Sling Grips are a good choice. Just like PopSockets, they're universal for any smartphones (or even flip phones if you live in the dark ages), and serve as an added layer of protection between your expensive smartphone screen and the cold concrete.
5. Temperature Control
Technology has seeped into every part of our lives, even our morning coffee. For those of us who can't stand when their coffee even approaches room temperature, these techy items are there to make sure it stays piping hot. (Or piping cold if it's cold brew. Is "piping cold" a phrase? Probably not. It's been a long week.)
If you've been in an Apple store recently, you've probably seen mugs from Ember. The company is new to the promo space, but just like any other tech innovations that started on a consumer level, like Bluetooth speakers, power banks and more, these would be at home in any upscale gift campaign.
If you're looking for more than just a cup, this self-heating travel mug from Powerplay Incentives is the way to go. Who needs to rely on vacuum seal or insulation when you have the power of technology keeping your coffee warm! This probably has more computing power than the Apollo 11. The future rules.
6. Going (and Staying) Retro
Now that we've extensively covered the World of Tomorrow, let's take a look at all of the retro-inspired products at Expo. Just like how people went nuts over bands that played stand-up basses and dressed like characters in "The Grapes of Wrath," we love consumer items that remind us of the best of the past.
Though this Bluetooth speaker from Muzzen is fully up-to-date with the latest audio technology, the retro look and feel just makes it fun, and it stands out in a sea of competing speakers that do the same thing. The only thing it's missing is one of those big gramophone attachments.
Tekweld leaned heavily into the retro trend as well. The supplier had a full display of its Retro Lunchbox in different variations—fully custom options, full-color decals, kitting and packaging solutions and, our favorite, inserts that allow convenient nesting of drinkware items for added value. If the colorful designs and metal construction don't make you a little bit nostalgic for the days of Saturday morning cartoons and your fourth-grade lunch table, we don't know what will.
7. The Supplier One-Stop Shop
Finally, all over the show floor was evidence of perhaps the biggest trend in promo—or at least one of the top trends impacting the way distributors do business. We covered it extensively before, and the move of suppliers toward a one-stop-shop model was apparent at Expo. As usual, Hub Promotional Group, Hit Promotional Products, PCNA and others had enormous booths stocked with a variety of product categories, but it was the addition or increased offering of apparel for some of these suppliers that really stood out.
BIC Graphic is a good example. Traditionally known for hard goods, the supplier stepped it up last year with the addition of several apparel brands, including partnerships with Hanes (making Champion, Alternative and other lines available directly from BIC Graphic) and Cap America. That product diversity was on full display on the show floor.
That's it for this year's recaps, though we have a bit more PPAI Expo 2020 coverage coming your way. We'll see you there next year!