This One Time... at Brand Camp

Come for creative product campaign ideas and branding advice. Stick around for obscure movie references.

In lieu of our traditional Tuesday post summarizing work in the office, we'd like to instead call attention to one very special client project in honor of today's significant date.

On September 11, 2001, Cantor Fitzgerald tragically lost 658 employees from their corporate headquarters on the 101st-105th floors of One World Trade Center in New York City. Every year since the attack, the company and its affiliate BGC Partners, Inc. have hosted a Charity Day event to commemorate these employees.

From Cantor's website:

Beginning in 2002, Cantor Fitzgerald commemorated the employees we lost by reaching out to help others through our annual Charity Day. Continuing this caring legacy, each September 11 (or the business day nearest September 11), Cantor and its affiliate BGC Partners, Inc. operate their business as a global Charity Day to help those less fortunate than ourselves. 100% of our revenues worldwide are donated to charities as our way of commemorating those we lost on 9/11, totaling more than $77 million through 2011. With these funds, we can help children by investing in medical research as well as taking care of those with special needs, provide support for injured veterans, and assist medical and social service organizations around the world and assist many other humanitarian causes. Charity Day for us is very special, as it turns the most difficult day of the year into something positive and uplifting.

We are honored to play a small part in Charity Day and join Cantor Fitzgerald in remembering the lives lost 11 years ago today.

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... T-shirts with a milk mustache design for the "got milk?" campaign.

... grip stands for Ogletree Deakins, for use at the SHRM Conference.

... and magnifier cards for JK Moving to be handed out at a senior living facility.

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.


I have no clue if such a day even exists. If it does, odds are it's probably not today.

But here on our blog, we deem it so.

In honor of this "holiday", I'd like to dedicate today's post to our fantastic design team at Sonic Promos. Michael Fritz and Rahmie Santoso work behind the scenes to support our staff and wow our clients. Their hands touch every order, at multiple stages.

Here are some of the many ways our artists improve your marketing materials.

They think beyond the logo. We create product at Sonic- branded merchandise and marketing materials for clients in a wide range of industries. Promotional products are a form of advertising, so clearly the logo is central to any project. But, it's not just about the logo. You want your target audience to actually wear, carry and use your materials. Good product selection helps achieve this goal, as does creative and interesting artwork. We rely on our art team to suggest details that add some all-important oomph. And they deliver.

But they don't forget the logo. As I said above, the products we create are advertisements, contributing to an organization's visual identity and overall brand. We take our clients' style guidelines very seriously, and we don't take liberties. Our graphic designers are respectful of and pay acute attention to PMS colors, logo versions, protective fields and minimum size restrictions. Additional graphic elements should only enhance, never corrupt nor distract from your logo.

They check production proofs like hawks. The moment you set foot on that casino floor, they'll be watching you like hawks. Hawks with video cameras. Ocean's Eleven, anyone?

When an order is moved into production, our graphic team is responsible for uploading and submitting art files to the supplier. As is the case with any communication, you can control how the message is transmitted, but you have no control over how it's received and interpreted. That's why production proofs are so important. They confirm that the supplier has correctly used and placed the artwork. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to discover inconsistencies. Checking and rechecking proofs before giving approval to print is very important, and we greatly appreciate the art department's keen eyes.

Michael and Rahmie, thank you so much for your incredible work and diligence. We hope you know how important you are.

"Which products do you really like?"

Clients ask us that question all the time. We never know quite how to respond, because every product that we recommend for a project is one we honestly believe to be a great choice.

I suppose, though, that what they're really after is our personal opinion, not our professional opinion. And like "neutral" parents, we'd be lying if we said we didn't have our favorites.

I asked some of Sonic's staff to weigh in:

Debbie's Pick: Rechargeable External Power Bank

"I love this product. It first caught my attention when we saw it demonstrated at the conference in Nashville earlier this year. The light changes color to indicate its level of charge: purple for full charge, blue for half charge and red for low charge. I think it would make a perfect executive gift or incentive for traveling employees."

Lindsay's Pick: The Gripstic

"I remember rolling my eyes when I saw this piece at a show in Atlantic City last year. I mean, the name is pretty ridiculous. I grabbed a few samples and surprised myself by actually using them at home. I still do. They're really easy to slide on and off and they create an air-tight seal. I think it's a fun product for inexpensive event giveaways, food and beverage promotions, and campaigns targeting college students. The only downside is the small imprint area; it's not the best choice for text-heavy artwork or logos with fine detail."

Jamie's Picks: Bookbound Journals and the Camelbak Eddy Water Bottle

"If I said that I had three of these journals on my desk right now, would that make me sound crazy? These are my go-to notebooks. They look professional for meetings, they're the perfect size to easily throw in my bag as I'm walking out the door, and I like the pocket for notes and business cards in the back.

As for the Camelbak, I'm completely in love with the straw. It's almost reached the point where I refuse to drink from any other bottle."

Michael's Pick: Bottle Opener

"I'm a big fan of the bottle opener key chain. I got one at the finish line of my first Mud Dog Run. It has a full color imprint and is shaped like a dog tag. I use it all the time, mainly because it's attached to something very important: my keys. Truly, any kind of bottle opener is a good one. They're an important device, providing access to the sweet nectar that is beer."

Seth's Pick: Pizza Cutter

"The Pizza Cutter gets a lot of use in our household; our family easily consumes 12 quesadillas per week. My favorite version features a blade that detaches from the handle. Both pieces are dishwasher-safe and easily cleaned. It's just so simple. When I'm using this product for a campaign, I like to package the cutters in small cardboard pizza boxes for easy distribution and mailing."

What are your favorite promotional products? Take a look at your desk, fridge, kitchen drawer, dashboard, and purse. Tell us what you find and what you'd hate to live without!

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... fully custom woven crew socks for the USO. The first two pictures show the prototype at different angles. The third image is the original sketch. 

... orange sweatshirts for Camp JCC staff, as a gift of appreciation for another successful summer season. 

... and 2011 Builder 100 Awards for Hanley Wood. 

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

As a kid, I never understood the adage "less is more". That's probably because when we're young, we think everything is pretty great. And a greater amount of great things can only be... greater.

Two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal was better than one. A full hour of recess was more exciting than 15 minutes. And a marathon of Saturday morning cartoons was far superior to a single episode.

As we age, we grow wiser (well, most of us do... maybe not Charlie Sheen), and we learn to appreciate the value of "less". Less traffic during rush hour, fewer bills cluttering our coffee tables, less belly fat, less stress... all good things.

Are you familiar with the "jam experiment"? It's a classic psychology study involving jars of jam; I think its findings clearly support the notion that "less is more".

The "jam experiment" was conducted by Sheena Iyengar, a researcher for Stanford University at the time of the study. Iyengar sought to understand how people make choices, and she looked to the grocery store as a prime location for observation. Her research assistants posed as jam suppliers, setting up tables for sampling.


In one version of the experiment, the sampling table offered six flavors for tasting: kiwi, marmalade, peach, black cherry, red currant and lemon curd. In another condition, twenty-four jam flavors were set out. In both versions, customers were encouraged to sample flavors and were given a coupon to buy a jar at discount.

Can you guess what happened?

The twenty-four flavor table attracted the most attention, but it actually reported smaller sales than the six-flavor table. Only 3% of shoppers who visited the twenty-four flavor table proceeded to buy jam. Compare that to the six flavor table: 30% of visitors left with a jar in hand.

The study concluded that twenty-four was an overwhelming number of flavors for shoppers. Unable to make a decision, tasters gave up and left empty-handed.

This study teaches us that it's good to have options, but too many options can be a bad thing. In promotional products, where the set of options for a particular product category can easily reach six or seven digits, we really understand and appreciate the value of "less". In fact, limiting choices for our clients is arguably one of the greatest services we provide.

You'll notice that the number of products featured on our Signature Collection website typically hovers around 2,000. The selection is updated on a daily basis to reflect popular trends, but the overall volume of choices stays consistent. 2,000 is still a big number, but when you compare it to the millions of products to which we have access, it's not so daunting. Think of it as our version of the six flavor table.

Relying on our knowledge of popular trends, supplier capabilities, and product quality, we aim to guide our clients to sound product decisions, as painlessly as possible. In general, we define a painless process as one without an overwhelming sea of choice. Should you be a twenty-four flavor sort of person, though, just let us know. We're happy to oblige!

What are your thoughts on the "jam experiment"? Are you the kind of person who likes a lot of options? Or do you prefer a smaller consideration set?

We have some exciting news to share! It's even more exciting than additional floor space and office baseball!

Inc. Magazine ranked Sonic Promos on its sixth annual 5000 List, a ranking of the nation's fastest growing private companies. We came in at number 3,373. Spot our name below!

Among Advertising & Marketing companies on the list, Sonic Promos was ranked at number 295.

In response, Sonic's President Seth Weiner said, "We are honored and excited to be included on this prestigious list. It is a validation of our belief that success comes from providing exceptional customer service and offering creative solutions to our clients' evolving promotional needs. We appreciate our loyal client base who brought us to this point, as well as the hard work of our employees, who always strive to insure we are doing the very best for our clients."

To view complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region and other criteria, visit

Thank you to Inc. for including us, and thank you to our wonderful clients for your continued support!

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... pens, carabineers, and spirit items for Montgomery College. Is it time to go back to school already?!  

... aluminum water bottles, umbrellas, pens and pink items galore for the Tigerlily Foundation. Founded by Maimah Karmo, a five year breast cancer survivor, speaker and advocate, the Tigerlily Foundation provides support services to young women before, during and after breast cancer. Check out the website to learn more about the organization, how you can help, and details about their upcoming Pink Boa 5K! 

... and nifty speakers for an upcoming golf tournament. 

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

Exciting times at Sonic. We've expanded!

Walk through here, and you will find...

... a new wing! And cheerful, Sonic-red walls. We're absolutely thrilled!

Sure it could use some more furniture, but until then...

... it's a great space for impromptu baseball.

And if you work up a sweat...

... hit the showers!

Check out our Facebook page for some additional photos. Even better, come pay us a visit and see it in person!

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... T-shirts for the Washington Kastles, commemorating yet another record-breaking season. The Kastles will head to the WTT Championships in Charleston, SC this September to defend last year's title. We'll be rooting for them to pull it off, continuing their 30 game winning streak, the second longest in pro sports history.  

... T-shirts for a KaBOOM! build, sponsored by Kool-Aid. 

... and rotate flash drives for Hebrew Union College, to welcome new students this fall. 

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... double wall tumblers and banners for MidCap Financial, to celebrate reaching the $1 billion milestone.  

... pens and watermelon lip balm for a Heart Walk benefiting the American Heart Association. 

... and LED key chains for new homeowners with Wright Management

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

Stylus pens have experienced a wave in popularity in the last 10 years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Palm Pilots and small PDA devices were new to the market, styluses were used regularly. This is because these early technologies used resistive touch screens, screens that respond to and register pressure. Resistive touch screens are not particularly responsive to fingers, so a stylus was extremely helpful, even necessary.

Around 2005, many companies made the switch to using capacitive screens. Capacitive screens are much more accurate and do not require you to push on the screen. A light touch, or simply placing your finger, is sufficient to register movement or selection. With the introduction of capacitive screens, the prevalence of styluses really dropped.

Now, in 2012, they seem to be back in full force, the ballpoint pen/stylus combo in particular. They're a popular choice for trade show giveaways, career fairs and tech conferences. We're also using them for restaurant promotions. Servers can keep a few in their apron to enter orders for the kitchen, and they're helpful for patrons signing mobile payments.

Why use a stylus instead of your finger?

A stylus pen is more precise. Whether you're sketching on a tablet or signing an electronic document, using a stylus will keep your work and penmanship tidy and legible.

A stylus pen is more sanitary. If you carry a pen with you to prevent picking up germs, why wouldn't you carry a stylus as well? Just think of the number of fingers that have swiped that screen before you. Keep a stylus/ballpoint pen combo in your purse, and you'll have your writing bases covered.

A stylus pen is gentler on your screen. If you have long nails, using a stylus pen instead of your finger will prevent scratches on your phone or tablet's screen.

Do you use a stylus when working on a tablet or browsing your phone?

I came across an interesting article by Nicholas Tart on the Retire@21 blog today: 17 Evolutions of Your Favorite Logos.

It's fascinating to see how much has changed, and across a very short period of time in many cases.

You know on makeover shows when people comment, "you look like you've lost 10 years!"? I feel that way about the Apple logo in 1976. What a difference. It's hard to imagine the original logo illuminated on an iPad, isn't it?

IBM's logo has also come a long way. Granted, these changes occurred over the course of 80+ years, compared to Apple's 36 year journey.

In the original article, Tart explains why the original Volkswagen logo is reminiscent of Nazi symbolism. Apparently, Hitler was involved in the company's founding. After WWII, Volkswagen understandably revamped its logo.

Over the years, the UPS logo has assumed a much cleaner look. That seems to be a common theme with many icons. Check out the evolution of the Kodak, Nokia, Shell and Yahoo logos in Tart's article. All of them adopt bolder fonts and stick with 1-2 colors.

I have to wonder if this is done, in part, to simplify reproduction. It's a lot easier to accurately reproduce a logo across multiple media (printed collateral, websites, products and packaging) when there aren't fine lines, small details and complicated color schemes present.

What are your thoughts on these logo transformations? Do you prefer one of the older versions, or do you agree with the company's current choice?

All diagrams sourced from

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... magnifying card lights for CBO Financial. The card lights will be distributed at the Algae Biomass Summit in late September, promoting CBO as a financier and developer of commercial algae production.  

... clips, bags and puzzle key chains for a summer event with CACI. 

... and umbrellas and cinch backpacks for the Phelps School, a boys' boarding school in Malvern, Pennsylvania. 

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

You're probably familiar with the Five Ws and One H: who, what, when, where, why and how. In journalism, these questions are considered the basics in information-gathering; they comprise a formula for getting the complete story.

The Five Ws and One H are good questions to ask yourself when it comes to promotional planning as well. Don't rush a purchase until you've addressed these six topics.

1. Who is the intended recipient?

First and foremost, determine which market your campaign will target. Are you reaching out to college juniors at a career fair? Fortune 500 executives? Mommy bloggers? A product can easily impress one audience, and miss the mark with another.

Interns at the Human Rights Campaign, modeling some temporary tattoos.

2. Why are promotional materials needed?

"Why" goes hand-in-hand with "Who". Why do you want to distribute promotional products to this particular group? Promotional products are used to motivate a desired action. Do you want to drive website traffic? Encourage participation in a health and wellness program? Thank a loyal client?

It's silly to purchase branded materials "just because". If you look at it that way, your purchase is simply an expense, not an investment. Take the time to identify your objective, your goal. You want to be able to look back at the end of the campaign and assess whether the product effectively achieved the desired outcome.

Stadium cups for a .CO happy hour at SXSW 2012.

3. When is the event or program launch?

If possible, take some time at the beginning of each fiscal year to create a promotional marketing calendar. Note all major events (like trade shows, conferences, career fairs, and company picnics) and projected program launch dates. Reviewing this long term timeline will help you avoid rush situations. You might even spot opportunities to consolidate purchases and order in bulk. For example, if you have career fairs scheduled for both spring and fall, order enough inventory for both events in February, and store the extras.

Moreover, when you have several months of lead time, you open the door for overseas production, allowing for greater customization and potentially smaller spend. More time will give you better options, and ultimately better results.

4. How much money can be spent?

Budget a specific amount for each promotional purchase. You will find that each product category- drinkware, for example- offers an overwhelming variety of products across an extremely wide price range. By determining ahead of time how much or how little you're willing to spend, you automatically narrow the field of potential choices and simplify the decision.

Communicate your budget's parameters to your distributor partner, if you're using one (see #5), so that they can help you find a winning solution.

5. Where to purchase?

Here comes a personal plug. Obviously my response to this question is biased, but I strongly recommend sourcing promotional materials from a trusted distributor partner. Your company will benefit from the distributor's product knowledge, branding expertise, and their established relationships with manufacturers.

Additionally, you alleviate some risk by going through a distributor. Should something go wrong (a misprint, a missed deadline, defective product), your account representative is responsible for providing a solution.

6. What item is the right choice for my campaign?

It's smart to approach this question with a mind open to suggestions from your distributor rep. The reason being, a product often sounds great in theory, but fails in practice. Your branding might have certain properties that render it unsuitable for a particular piece. Perhaps the delicate lines of your tagline will bleed when sublimated on a lanyard, or the finer details of your logo will close on a pad-printed flashlight.

You might have your heart set on one product, but if a similar piece can be done in 1 week instead of 4 weeks, or can save you in shipping because it's produced in the same state as your event, it should be considered. A knowledgeable distributor will proactively spot production conflicts and opportunities, and he/she can guide you toward the best possible product for your campaign.

Think like a journalist when it comes to promotional planning, and remember the Five Ws and One H. These six questions will show the way to successful campaigns and responsible spending.

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... decals for the 303 Brand of protectants, cleaners and associated products from Gold Eagle.

... journals, T-shirts, laptop sleeves and other event program items for the Harwood Institute

... and double wall straw tumblers for Christ Fellowship. 

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

How much do you sweat during a workout? Do you wear that damp shirt proudly? Or do you rush home to change and shower? If you belong to the former group, you're going to love this.


ViewSPORT is a growing clothing company that specializes in sweat-activated athletic wear. That's right... sweat-activated. When dry, the shirt resembles any other screen-printed T-shirt. It's only when you begin to perspire heavily or saturate the garment with water that a special decoration appears.


We think it's a unique solution for race promotions, corporate health and wellness programs, and yoga studio merchandise. Contact us to develop a custom design for your next campaign.

Sweat equity, for your brand. We love it!

Any fans of the VH1 series I Love the 80's out there?

I've had 80's on the brain a lot at work recently... and it's not just because the 80's Popular Hits Radio Station on Pandora is one of Seth's favorite choices for background music. No, it's because 80's product trends and styles are experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

In my personal opinion (i.e. lacking factual basis), we're seeing this trend because a lot of today's decision-makers, product buyers and marketing managers, were children born and raised in the 80's. They have a soft spot for the neon colors and Ray-Ban sunglasses of their youth, and they recognize that their similarly-aged event attendees and customers do too.

If you're looking for a retro promotional piece with nostalgic appeal, consider one of these fun options.

Inexpensive, rubberized sunglasses shaped like Ray-Ban Wayfarers are a fun choice for kids' promotions, outdoor festivals, and risky business events.

Neon and highlighter shades are very popular in retail apparel right now. American Apparel offers several neon T-shirts, tanks and sweatshirts for wholesale printing.  

This hooded pullover is reminiscent of your retired acid wash jeans. It's also one of the softest sweatshirts I've ever felt.

I'm absolutely in LOVE with this umbrella inspired by Pac-Man.

Fanny packs. The trend that just won't die.

I like the idea of using reflective slap bracelets at an early morning 5K or family fun run. Kids still love them, and they're a great safety piece. 

Which trends do you wish would come back into style? Which ones would you rather see left in the past?

This week at Sonic Promos, we're working on...

... drawstring bags for Huntington Bank's health and wellness program, printed with full color decoration and individually poly-bagged.

... performance jerseys and cotton T-shirts for players, line judges and guests of the 2012 Washington Kastles Charity Classic tennis match. Kastles team members will play alongside D.C. politicians, media and sports personalities, donating 100% of ticket proceeds to the D.C. Public Education Fund, Share Our Strength, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. 

... and custom-shaped flash drives for Bryn Mawr College. 

"This Week at Sonic Promos" is a regular feature on our blog.
Read all past posts here.
Check in every week to see some of the work that's going on in our office.

Let's talk about color.

Most of us have a favorite color. Mine is yellow. Specifically PMS 107.

It makes me feel happy and warm. And it's not all in my head; humans really do have physical and psychological reactions to different hues.

Do you ever think about how certain colors make you feel? Generally speaking, blues and greens are very soothing, and warm colors like red, orange and yellow, energize and motivate action.


Marketers are attune to these effects, and they apply color theory to retail stores, websites, advertisements and direct mail all the time. Shouldn't you be thinking about it when designing promotional materials too?

Most of the time, our clients opt for items that match (or closely match) the colors present in their logo. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can be fun to mix things up, especially if a different choice would better enhance your goal.

For example, orange is supposed to appeal to children and energize adults. How about doing orange Frisbees for August's summer company picnic? Or, if your primary goal for October's trade show is to gather signatures for a sustainability pledge, opt for red tabling materials to A) grab attention and B) motivate a call to action.

What are your thoughts on color theory? Do you agree with the associations in the table above? Have you ever applied color theory to a marketing campaign with particular success?