Perfecting the Art of Trade Show Giveaways

Trade Show Giveaways | Trade Show Trenches
February 22, 2022

How nice would it be to say, “I am so glad I got these,” about a trade show giveaways? A clever and carefully chosen trade show incentive will make you stand out from the crowd at your next show. It’s a low-hanging fruit that’s overlooked all too frequently. 

When you decide to invest in trade show giveaways – and that’s what it is, an investment – make sure it’s a respectable return on that investment? Trade shows and events are HUGE OPPORTUNITIES generating over 13 billion dollars in 2017. Post-pandemic… those numbers are only going to increase significantly as exhibitors and attendees head back to convention centers. 

However, before you do your deep dive into the crazy world of promotional giveaways, consider three things.

  • What’s your motive for offering an incentive,
  • How can you maximize your return, and
  • Do you have the time to scroll through 1000’s of branded sunglasses, stress balls, or travel mugs?

Hire trade show experts instead. Yes, there are national firms offering promotional products, but there are also local promotional product professionals in your backyard. You won’t pay more and you’ll get the gift of experience and passionate customer service. They’ll fight to ensure those calendars arrive on time and on budget and will negotiate with suppliers in case there are issues. Plus, they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms which products are appropriate for your logo and your brand. Why? Because they want you to be a long-term customer who relies on their services every time you attend a trade show, an event, or simply need gifts for the office or your customers.

Standing Out with Unique Trade Show Giveaways

Forbes ran an article several years ago about this very thing. One intriguing idea was to make a donation to a well-chosen, on-brand charity for every business card that someone leaves you. It engenders massive amounts of goodwill and creates a reason for literally everyone who has a business card to give one to you. 

If you decide to go with the traditional method of sending actual branded things off with your visitors, you can still get creative with memorable trade show giveaways. What have you ever missed having while you were on a business trip? One hopes it wasn’t your phone charger, which is why phone chargers or portable power banks are perfect promo items. Even an attendee who has their charger back at the hotel can use the one you’ve given them while they’re out. Also, it’s the kind of useful item that can be put in your client’s glove compartment or purse. Even better, in the case of a portable power bank, carried around and visible to many!

Trade Show Giveaways

10 Event Giveaway Ideas

1. USB Drives  

They continue to be versatile and popular with trade show attendees and have a high perceived value.  Plus, they last for years. 

2. Ink Pens, Post-it Notes, and Notebooks

Yes, we’re all on computers, tablets, and laptops but these essentials are still on everyone’s desk. And, if it’s a pen we love, we’ll guard it with the same intensity as protecting our firstborn child. 

3. Promotional Clothing (outerwear in particular)

If you have the budget, consider outerwear as an option for both employees and customers. Promotional outerwear is kept for an average of 16 months and will be seen by 10’s of thousands of people.

4. Custom Tote Bags  

Reusable tote bags have become a staple of most households whether for grocery shopping, a trip to the beach, or simply for the baby’s clothing, bottles, and diapers. 

5. Promotional Drinkware and Mugs

Perhaps not the sexiest gift but a useful one nonetheless. Choose one that’s well made with a clever design so it becomes the drinkware or cup of choice for your customer.

6. Printed Hats and Headwear

A beanie, ski cap, or baseball cap may seem ho-hum but like outwear, t-shirts, and other clothing items, they get worn and they get seen. To many folks, they are both irresistible and appreciated. 

7. Mobile Accessories

Popsockets, chargers, stylus pens, power banks, and phone stands are attention grabbers on any table and a must-have gift when attending a trade show.

8. Travel

These tried and true items remain as popular as ever. We all need luggage tags, backpacks, folding chairs, umbrellas, and coolers. 

9. Wellness Products

We’re all too familiar with branded hand sanitizer bottles but it’s time to consider other wellness items like thermometers, first aid kits, and antibacterial wipes. 

10. Other

There’s a reason lanyards, badge holders, keychains, lip balm, and mints continue to be a go-to choice for exhibitors. Trade show attendees want them.

Planning Your Order for Your Giveaways

It’s okay to order too many; just don’t order too few. If you have leftovers, you can use them at your next show – or just about any promotional function where giveaways are appropriate. 

But to determine the appropriate quantity, do some simple research. You can often find out how many people have attended a particular trade show in the past by perusing the description of an upcoming one. Or, they might just say something like, “expected to draw [however many] attendees.” Start by ordering, say, 15% more giveaways than the number of expected attendees, see how many leftovers you end up with, and adjust from there.


Learn About Virtual Exhibits

In the digital era, it’s important to adapt and embrace new technologies. Learn about how virtual trade shows can help you reach and engage new customers.

Things to Avoid with
Promotional Giveaways

Adding a promotional giveaway or incentive seems like an easy decision for many exhibitors. Why not add a free pen, notepad, or flashlight to your trade show marketing mix? Who doesn’t want to get something free? The cute curved pen just might land you a new client. Here are four reasons why a promotional incentive may actually be a bad idea. 

1. Relevance 

Shopping for a promotional giveaway can be fun! The catalog (or website) has thousands of clever and colorful products, like mugs, umbrellas, or even apparel, available for branding with your logo, colors, and messaging. It’s easy to get lost in the moment and choose one that you like… but doesn’t have anything to do with your business. 

For example, let’s say you are a real estate agent and you see a corral sports bottle that matches your logo. You order 250 and are excited to give them away at the monthly Chamber of Commerce show. However, those sports bottles will probably end up in someone’s cupboard or gym bag. The recipient may appreciate it (at the time) but it’s unlikely to result in a referral.  

2. Stickiness

Let’s explore two possible promotional incentives for a winery. The winery has weekend outdoor tastings. The owner has a modest budget so he decides to fill a bowl with lip balm tubes and SPF spray bottles. Nearly everyone takes one and puts them in their pocket or purse. Then, in a week or a month, they’ll get tossed in the trash. Instead, the winery owner spends 4X more and purchases branded corkscrews. These don’t go in a bowl. They are reserved for customers who purchase two or more bottles of wine. It’s a thank you gift, one the recipient will use for years and that will be seen by others at parties, dinners, etc. Stories will be told about the winery and the weekend tasting.  

3. Audience 

Have you ever gotten candy or soda pop from your dentist? Of course not. You get branded toothbrushes or floss. Your insurance agent probably gives you safety products like a first aid kit, auto safety tool, or a reflector vest. Those products are not only appropriate for their business but are also appropriate for their clients. Consider your audience when choosing an incentive or giveaway. Will they use it, will they appreciate it, and will it remind them of your business? 

4. Image

Many giveaways are giveaways for a reason. They are inexpensive versions of products you would generally pay more for if they weren’t free. For example, ink pens rarely have a full tube of ink in a giveaway version. Let’s say you offer IT services to businesses. You might think that promotional wireless chargers or phone battery banks would be an ideal gift. In concept yes… but the promotional versions are not the same quality as those you would typically buy as a non-promotional item. Free can be fun but free can also be damaging. 


event giveaway ideas

Sustainable Trade Show Gift Ideas

Eco-friendly promotional giveaways or swag come in a wide variety of products. Some incentive companies even donate a % of your order to ethical/sustainable causes. When it comes to green, you’re not only making a choice on a product but also a business. Let’s start by exploring some popular sustainable trade show gift ideas. 


  • Reusable metal straws
  • Insulated paper travel cups
  • BPA free water bottles
  • BioPlastic Bento Box


  • Bamboo pens and highlighters
  • Bamboo 
  • Grow pots
  • Notebooks with recycled paper


  • Seeded paper bags
  • Jute and twill tote bags

Food and Beverage:

  • Eco-friendly cutlery
  • Beeswax wraps
  • Candy in compostable packaging 

Let’s Dream Up the Best Trade Show Giveaways for Your Exhibit!

At Exhibits NW, we take a holistic view of your trade show experience – that is, of your trade show success. There is more to it than the architecture of your booth! We help our clients feel at home in the trade show space by helping them manage all aspects of the experience. Schedule a call today to start dreaming out loud about how you’ll leave an impression on everyone fortunate enough to happen by your next display – from display design to giveaways and everything in between!

Schedule a Call

If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form, and we’ll contact you shortly.

Schedule a Call
If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form and we’ll contact you shortly.