Industry Information

The Promotional Merchandise Industry

The giving of gifts dates back throughout history. Gifts are given for numerous reasons, such as a welcome, appreciation or as part of a celebration. In the late 20th century, a new industry evolved around the concept of giving gifts. Both industry and commerce have long recognised the benefits gained by a company or corporate organisation giving gifts to existing and prospective customers. Promotional merchandise is now used globally to promote brands and products, as well as helping to establish and build corporate identity. 
Branding products with a company name, logo, or message, dates back to the 1800’s. The first known promotional products trace back to 1789; these were commemorative buttons produced when George Washington was elected president of the USA. In the early and mid- 1800’s, advertising calendars and wooden items were popular. However, it was in the late 19th century that the creation of the industry began with a great quantity of promotional products being developed and marketed. 

In the UK, the promotional merchandise industry became more sophisticated and was recognised as a form of corporate marketing in the late 1950’s. Before this, companies may have provided occasional gifts, but the concept of a ‘promotional merchandise industry’ was not yet conceived. The real explosion in growth took place in the 1970s. At this time, an ever-increasing number of corporate companies realised the benefits to be gained from promoting their corporate identity, brand or product via the use of gifts featuring their logo and brand identity. In the early years, the range of products available was limited. However, in the early 1980s, demand grew from distributors for a generic promotional product catalogue, which could be branded as their own and left with their corporate customers.  
The first UK trade association dedicated to promotional merchandise was born in 1948, called BAGDA (Business Advertising Gift Distributor Association, later becoming Promota). Due to the industry boom and an increasing need to regulate and support the UK promotional merchandise industry, the BPMA (British Promotional Merchandise Association) was formed in 1965. 

The BPMA today

Some sixty years on, the sector was valued at £1-1.2bn at the start of 2020 and is a central aspect of UK’s creative and manufacturing industries, providing a recognised and effective medium. 

Today, the BPMA serves to Inspire, Connect and Educate the industry. Committed to leading the sector, representing and supporting members, offering true competitive advantage through education and engagement.  
The BPMA’s strategic objectives are centred around promoting the services and values of members to the End User audience through research and engagement. In turn, this develops understanding and appreciation of the value of promotional merchandise within the wider marketing community. 
The BPMA enables meaningful connections through events, networking opportunities and introductions. Tangible support is offered by keeping members informed and advised on business legislation, opportunities, threats and relevant topical industry issues via forums, networks, communications and one-to-one guidance. 
Recognition and development of its members is facilitated through a powerful education programme, enabling increased customer confidence by demonstrating they are trusted professionals, able to deliver compliant and effective promotional solutions. 
In 2010 the total marketing spend in the UK was valued at £33billion, with the promotional merchandise industry valued at £750m, just 3% of the total marketing spend. Currently the promotional merchandise industry is valued at £1.2billion (figure correct as of February 2020) against a total advertising and marketing spend of £120bn+. 
The industry aim is to achieve further growth through increased end user engagement, education, research and insight on the effectiveness, efficacy delivering the return-on-investment promotional merchandise can facilitate.   
The BPMA will continue to raise standards of the industry through continued professional development, driving the UK as a centre of excellence for promotional products.