Nonprofit Branding: Rejoice! Here’s a Rebuttal to My Logo-Pen Rant

I think imprinted logo-pens are a waste of money for a nonprofit.  This opinion was expressed in an earlier post Cost, Impact and Use of Logo-Pens.

My friend Rob, a veteran promotional products salesman jumped on me for this heresy. In total disagreement, he challenged my thinking and disputed my conclusion. He also made several insightful suggestions. Rob is clearly on the side of the VisABILITY president Janice Gavan, my wife and newly acknowledged logo-pen advocate.

So, let’s explore the views Rob and Janice support. Then you decide which logic applies to your own branding program. Rob’s rebuttal to the original post starts this way:

 You are wrong , Janice is right! …if you pick the right pen for the job. Given the number of writing instruments out there.. how can you not pick the right pen?

There are: 

  • “Sharpies” permanent ink markers which I was informed was like ‘gold’ to a hotel concierge.
  • Pens that can tell you if a dollar bill is fake.
  • High end pens if you’re feeling high-end!
  • Pens that write great but don’t cost much (Uni-Balls are my favorites)
  • Pens with a rubber grip if you’re becoming arthritic.
  • Pens with room for 6 messages!

and I rarely sell a pen that costs more than $1 let alone $3! So divide your cost per impression by .66% to get the true cost.

Suck it up John and admit you are wrong!

So says my friend Rob. Compare his views to the following elaboration. Decide if I can hold my own against the VisABILITY president and the highly respected promotional products salesman.

Here is the root of our disagreement. I believe Rob looks at the issue from the perspective of a for-profit corporation and its customers. Why shouldn’t he? The for-profit commercial world is where nearly all promotional products vendors earn their living. But I am writing for the nonprofit world.

The corporate perspective is exactly the reason I reject the research about logo-pens. It ignores the fundamental distinction this blog addresses constantly – for-profit and nonprofit markets have different dynamics in the way they do – or do not – engender an affinity relationship.

Consider this:

  • Everybody washes clothes. True? But – have you even seen a person sporting a T-shirt or mug or tote-bag announcing “I love my Kenmore Washing Machine” or an “I’m a Whirlpool Fan?”
  • Most people drive cars, make pancakes, get cuts and burns, use a bank, buy clothes, watch DVDs and eat hamburgers. Nevertheless, you will seldom or never see a person flaunt the logo of Buick, Bisquick, Band-Aid, Bank of America, Banana Republic, Blockbuster or Burger King.

Why not? Because the for-profit and nonprofit relationships are based on different values.

  • In the for-profit corporate market the relationship is largely an unemotional, me-centered and acquisitive. It reflects whether a commercial enterprise meets a customer’s needs. Thus, the customer may appreciate a logo-pen and use it happily. But that person is unlikely to feel the urge to display the imprinted logo to others. When it bears the Netflix logo or Bank of America logo, a pen is just a pen and a mug is just a mug.
  • Nonprofit relationships are different. They derive from emotional affinity for a public service mission. Most people are happy to be identified by that affinity. For them, displaying the logo of a nonprofit they admire is a form of self-identification, a declaration of personal affiliation with a cause, a mission and a set of values.  (From that dynamic comes the incredible marketing power nonprofits obtain  from imprinted branding products.)

The branding product with a corporate logo is designed to influence the customer. The same product with a nonprofit logo has the same influence on a supporter. More important – the imprinted branding product’s greatest value to nonprofit marketing is that it becomes a device which allows the supporter to self-brand!

The logo-pen flops as a badge of personal identification because the imprint must be very small. It cannot be seen by anyone but the person using the pen. Thus, it does not display the owner’s affinity for the nonprofit the pen represents. Compared to other products such as apparel, tote-bags, mugs and  caps, that logo-pen has failed in its marketing mission. It is not an effective branding tool for nonprofits. It is just a pen!


Now you have the thoughts of three people, all heavily involved in the subject, but having different views. I (John Burke) got the last word because I write the blog. Agree with my reasoning? Disagree? Let our readers know. Send your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom. Rob gave me hell. You can too.

Want more about the dynamics of branding products in nonprofit marketing? Check NONPROFIT BRANDING: Why the Lord of Logos Rules Your Marketplace.

COMING UP: The next few posts will introduce some new services being rolled out on this blog during Spring, revisit the concept of Picking High-Hanging Fruit  with a great story about how an un-solicitation (That’s right – “UN-solicitation”) produced $250,000. We’ll also introduce some new branding products – including an extraordinary French Press/Mug Combo with a great back-story.

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