Don’t Buy the Cheap Pens!

I have nothing against promotional products. I like promotional products. I like the people that sell them, and I like the amazing kinds of products that are available today. But there’s one promotional product I absolutely can’t stand. Cheap pens. You know the kind… they’re small, thin, ugly, made of plastic, break in about a week and cost companies a grand total of 45 cents.


When I go to a trade show of any kind, I cringe at the unbelievable amount of cheap pens that vendors shovel into the swag bags of passersby. Why do businesses do this?!

I have a company policy that I’ve imposed on myself since I started my business. I will NEVER hand out low-quality, cheap promotional products with my logo on them. Why? Because it cheapens my brand. I know that I don’t have a million-dollar company, and my company is not an established name in any household. But I do know this: In business, I don’t charge people for things I can’t be proud of. And I don’t give away things I can’t be proud of either.

I’m proud of the work I do, and I charge a decent penny for it. So why would my marketing materials reflect anything other than this? That’s one reason I’ve been extremely stingy on the promotional products I have handed out in the past. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on swag, but when I do, I make sure I get only the good stuff. Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve only actually had two items: branded Mousepads and iPod Shuffles with my company name engraved on them. The mousepads are a given… I’m a website and computer guy, so I give out mousepads. The iPod Shuffles, also, make perfect sense. I’m a Mac guy, I like Apple products, and music, and computers. iPods involve all of these. Plus, they’re COOL! When I put my logo on something, I give people something really nice that they actually want.

In case you’re not yet convinced, here are a few reasons why I despise the cheap pen phenomenon:

  1. It reflects poorly on your business. If your company is a residential HVAC Company and charges me five thousand dollars to replace my furnace, it cheapens your brand to hand me a 45 cent pen. Because I just paid you thousands of dollars. And I know that means you have more than half a buck to spend on my pen. So you look cheap.
  2. When it breaks, it makes me mad at you. I’m a very relaxed, calm person by nature. But one thing that absolutely drives me bonkers is when something breaks. If I’m pulling out my checkbook to pay for a doctor’s office visit, and my pen runs dry while my check is only half way written—woe unto the pitiable company whose pen just ran dry on me. Because I will look to see whose pen it was that I randomly grabbed, and I will look to the sky, and curse your company’s name for not caring enough to give me a pen that actually worked. You could say this is the one aspect of my professional life where I’m completely irrational and fly off the handle. And I’m ok with that. Because it REALLY bothers me.
  3. I won’t remember a crappy pen. But I will remember a nice one. There’s only one pen I have ever gotten in all my years that truly passed the test. Larry’s. Larry is my friend’s dad. And he lives in another state. He sells insurance. I’ve never bought insurance from Larry, probably because we live a thousand miles apart. But you know what? Every time I think about Larry, I think about that magnificent pen he gave me that feels solid, looks beautiful, and writes smoothly, even two years later. And if I know of people who are moving to where Larry lives, you better believe I’m going to try to send them his way to buy insurance.

Maybe you think it’s a small detail that doesn’t matter. That’s fine. You can disagree with me. But I hope, for your sake, that it’s not your company’s cheap pen that runs dry on me someday when I’m signing my name.

2 Replies to “Don’t Buy the Cheap Pens!”

  1. Ron, I totally agree with you. When I had my own cleaning company I would get those offers to buy pens and calendars as give a ways to my customers or for marketing. I never went that route choosing instead items of value that would reinforce my company’s position of value. Also, personally I love good pens that write well and fit comfortably in my hand. I have never found a cheap pen that met my expectations.

    On a side note I found your wonderful blog while looking into the possibility of moving to Colorado Springs. I sure hope it works out.

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