Promotional Pens

Summary: The client requested a blog-style article (over 1000 words) on the value of promotional pens. I was given the topic and research from a Bic study on writing instrument use (“A Study of Writing Instruments in U.S. Households”). I also included additional sources (‘mere-exposure effect’, etc.). Links have been omitted.


If you are like us and you look for a pen, it’s highly likely that you will end up grabbing a promotional pen.  A wide array of businesses, from bars to banks, use this inexpensive, yet effective method of advertising to increase and retain their customer base.

Pens get transferred around. They aren’t only being used by individuals, but also other businesses. Go into a restaurant and ask for the check. Chances are, you are you will be signing with a promotional pen. The same goes for banks and a variety of other businesses. Their mobility is one of the reasons why promotional pens are such a genius marketing tool.

As part of our interest in the usefulness of promotional pens, we recently broached the topic to a thirty-something-year-old friend of ours. We just asked her a general question about how she felt about promotional pens, without any direction or explanation of why we were asking. Almost without taking the time to think, she quickly responded that promotional pens are one of the only free items that businesses give out that she actually enjoys and finds useful.

Our friend is not alone in her opinion. Almost three-quarters of participants in a recent study stated that they are always carrying a pen. In fact, over 75 percent of people surveyed stated that pens were an important part of their daily life. If you had to guess what the age range was for the group of people using pens the most, what would your guess be? Most people, ourselves included, would probably assume the older, less tech-savvy generation were the ones using pens more often. Guess again! A larger percentage of the younger population used pens in their daily lives when compared with adults aged 65 and older. Regardless of the technology available, pens are still being used and they are being used by and large, by populations who are likely to be spending money on the services that are advertised on the pens.

Eighty-seven percent of people in a survey, reported using pens at least once a day, while sixty percent used pens five times or more each day. What does this mean for businesses? Well, if someone is using a promotional pen from a business, anywhere from one to five times each day, they are also seeing the business logo as well.

What does this have to do with promoting a business? Well, we’re going to go into psychology a bit here, so bear with us. The ‘mere-exposure effect’ (also known as the ‘familiarity principle’) is a psychological experience where a person starts to prefer one person or thing over another because they have become more familiar with that person or thing. This can happen in many different ways, sometimes through exposure to sound or paintings, but the one that is relevant to the effectiveness of promotional pens is exposure to text. Specifically, the text that appears on the pen. Someone sees a logo on a pen day after day and it becomes ingrained in their mind. Then one day, when they need a particular service a pen is advertising, it will most likely be the first option that comes to mind. Not only will it be the first to come to mind, according to the mere-exposure effect, there is a good chance it will also be the person’s preferred choice. To back this idea up, a recent study found that promotional pens affected a person’s use of the service in the future, as well as the probability of them referring someone else to that service.

During a test of a group of people that had received one promotional pen in the past year, close to 70 percent of people could remember the advertiser’s name. The number of people who could recall the specific service or product information on the pen was over 52 percent. According to the same study, after receiving the pen, 53 percent of participants had formed a good opinion of the advertiser who had given them the pen. Additionally, 32 percent said they were influenced by the pen to use the advertiser that was being promoted and 46 percent claimed they wanted to use the company in the future. That’s a lot of power for such a seemingly small object!

You may be thinking, what about all the other traditional writing tools? How about pencils? Forty percent of respondents in a survey on this topic reported that they rarely use pencils (a few times each month) or never use them. But what about highlighters and markers? Those bright colors are sure to grab people’s attention. Why not use them to promote a business? Despite their flashy appearance, highlighters and markers were found to be used even less than pencils. One-third of people surveyed stated that they used markers several times a month. Only one-fifth reported using them on a daily basis. So, taking all of this into consideration, pens are a business’s best choice as far as writing instruments are concerned. They are used more frequently by people who would be interested and able to use the services that are advertised on the pens.

With that being said, there are some factors that influence which type of pen a person prefers. This section will cover some tips on what type of pen a business should look for.  According to another study, the number one characteristic that people look for in a pen is smooth ink flow.

Who wants a pen that doesn’t write smoothly? I’m sure we have all experienced a situation where we can only write half of a sentence (or word) because the pen we’re using suddenly gives out of ink. The person then has to scribble on another piece of paper to get the ink flowing again. We have all done this. What a waste of time!

We wouldn’t want our business associated with the frustration that comes from this type of situation. We also wouldn’t want what we write to smudge on the paper, and even worse, stain our skin or clothes while writing. That’s why it didn’t come as a surprise to us when we read that the second characteristic people want from a pen is smudge-proof ink. Other features that were highly ranked included functionality, waterproof ink, and more. However, for the sake of simplicity, remember that good ink flow and smudge proof ink rank the highest in desired characteristics for pens.
Perhaps it’s the small size and affordability of pens that make them such a good method of advertising. People are able to carry pens everywhere. They fit in pockets, purses, cars, etc. Everyone needs a pen at some point, and they are easy for people to lend. Even businesses use promotional pens from outside businesses. So, imagine if your business advertises using pens, how easily and effectively it will be promoted.