Editor's Picks: The American Dream


The health and economic crisis that ensued from the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the supply chain unlike anything the world has seen since the Great Depression and WWII. While the world’s scientists and researchers worked to develop a vaccine, economic nationalism rose in several countries. In the U.S., manufacturing struggled to keep up with pandemic-related demands for life-saving products such as ventilators, N95 face masks and personal protective equipment, opening opportunities for more companies to step up. While it’s impossible, in this modern world, to be unaffected by a global pandemic, many began to ask, why does the United States not have the capacity to manufacture products in the midst of a sudden, urgent need? Although companies across the country, including numerous industry suppliers, retrofitted their businesses to meet the needs of their communities, calls to reignite U.S. manufacturing have empowered “Made in the U.S.A.” products. 

"Buy American" has been a rallying cry for more than a decade. The interest in American-made products got a boost in 2019 when President Trump signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to purchase products using domestic components. The order strengthened standards under the Buy American Act, enacted in 1933, which creates a preference for U.S.-made products. Trump’s order was also aimed at increasing the percentage of U.S. components for qualifying American-made products from 50 percent to 75 percent.

In January, President Biden signed an executive order to further encourage the federal government’s purchase of U.S.-manufactured goods and services. The “Made In All Of America” initiative is a national commitment to make a historic investment in American products, services, supply chains and the transportation of goods. To do this, Biden’s executive order tightens domestic content rules, closing loopholes to allow products to be labeled "Made in America" for purposes of federal procurement, even if barely 51 percent of the materials used to produce them are manufactured domestically. It is unclear how much the threshold will rise. The order also seeks to end false advertising and tighten waivers for Buy American requirements. "When we buy American, we will buy from all of America," said Biden. "This is a critical piece of building our economy back better and including everyone in the deal this time, especially small businesses that are badly hurting in this economy." The initiative is expected to create nearly five million jobs, which also means shifting the way youth are educated, and will greatly impact the country's ability to ramp up manufacturing. A 2018 report conducted by Deloitte found that 89 percent of manufacturing jobs were unable to be filled because of a lack of educated workers. 

The U.S. was once one of the world’s largest manufacturing hubs in the world. When WWII erupted, the enormous American manufacturing complex easily converted to wartime production. Automakers stopped making cars and instead began building guns, tanks and aircraft engines. During the war years, only 139 cars rolled off assembly lines compared to the three million automobiles manufactured in the U.S. in 1941. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, by the end of WWII, half of the world's wartime industrial production was in the United States. In the 1970s, many prominent American companies began offshoring manufacturing to maximize profits. By offshoring in countries with fewer labor and environmental regulations, the U.S. generated a profit large enough to offset the costs of shipping internationally. This worked perfectly for a consumer-led society obsessed with inexpensive goods. But concerns about product origins and social responsibility shifted American consumer priorities, and the U.S. is starting to rethink the value of reshoring manufacturing that can be done domestically. 

The plan to boost American manufacturing utilizes federal resources unseen since WWII. Global crises, such as WWII and the coronavirus pandemic, reveal how crucial resilient onshore manufacturing is for a country. According to Forbes, countries with dramatically different success rates when managing COVID-19 were much more likely to prioritize their own access to essential PPE and pharmaceuticals. But onshore manufacturing will not eliminate supply chain disruptions. According to Shiro Armstrong, director at The Australian National University, supply chains that are concentrated onshore are more vulnerable to other kinds of disruptions such as natural disasters or home-grown crises that shut down entire industries. Armstrong insists that the best insurance against inevitable disaster in one part of the world is a connection to supplies from manufacturers all around the world. “The key is to manage supply chain risk, not to avoid it,” says Armstrong. 

According to a survey by the Reshoring Institute, nearly 70 percent of the respondents indicated that they prefer American-made products. More than 83 percent responded that they would pay up to 20 percent more for products made domestically. As consumers become more aware of product origins, U.S. companies are demonstrating their commitment to American manufacturing. In March, Walmart, whose pricing policies forced suppliers to send jobs overseas, announced that it will spend $350 billion on items made, grown or assembled in the U.S. over the next 10 years, adding to a 2013 commitment of $250 billion. 

While an effective marketing technique, U.S.A.-made products benefit businesses in other ways. Mike Burns, president of Akron, Ohio, supplier Quikey Manufacturing Co., says, “While it is a higher cost of labor to build our products in the U.S.A., we have felt that we have had more direct control over the quality of our products and service levels by handling all of our production here in the U.S.A. In addition, we have not been affected as much by supply chain issues. Finally, we feel that it has been a win-win for us and for our local community to be able to contribute many good jobs to individuals and families here consistently over many decades.”

While the U.S. works toward a highly efficient and productive manufacturing system, American-made products will remain stand out, favored items. With a “Made in the U.S.A.” label, clients can be sure of the manufacturers’ values, quality and reliability. As the U.S. finds the delicate balance between onshoring and offshoring, the promo industry can lead the charge for American-made products. 


It’s not easy being American-made. In April, a small promotional products company settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), agreeing to pay a monetary judgment of $146,249.24. The company was charged with making false, misleading or unsupported advertising claims that their customizable promotional products were “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. Although the items were wholly imported from China, the company made numerous claims that the novelty items were “Made in the U.S.A.,” “U.S.A.-made” and “Manufactured Right Here in America!” 

Recently, the FTC has increased its focus on enforcing against misleading “Made in U.S.A.” claims. A month before the supplier’s settlement, the FTC made a $1.2 million settlement, the largest “Made in U.S.A.” judgment ever, against glue manufacturer Chemence after it violated a 2016 order involving deceptively-labeled glue products containing imported components. As the value of American-made products rise, lawmakers are looking at claims with renewed scrutiny. President Biden’s “Made In All of America” executive order promised to end false advertising, cracking down on companies that falsely label products as Made in America. In February 2021, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) introduced a bill to amend Commerce and Trade Code § 45a, seeking to create a single national standard for “Made in the U.S.A.” claims. For marketers, there are three types of claims American-made products can fall under. 

  1. Unqualified U.S. origin claims for any product must show that the product’s final assembly or processing—and all significant processing—took place in the U.S., and that all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the U.S.

  2. Qualified - “Made in the U.S.A.” claims must include a clear and conspicuous disclosure immediately adjacent to the representation that accurately conveys the extent to which the product contains foreign parts, ingredients or components, or processing

  3. Assembled - these products are substantially transformed in the U.S. last, their principal assembly takes place in the U.S., and U.S. assembly operations are substantial

In June 2020, the FTC proposed a rule to prohibit marketers from including unqualified “Made in the U.S.A.” claims on labels unless: (1) final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the U.S.; (2) all significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the U.S.; and (3) all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the U.S. 


Andy Shape, president and CEO of Stran Promotional Solutions, shares how the distributor landed U.S. Census 2020 as a client and produced one of the company's most successful programs. 

One program brought Census Bureau statistics to life by teaching children in K-8th grade the importance of the Census.

The Project

Our client was a national advertising and marketing company in Washington, D.C., and the lead agency managing Census 2020 for the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census count takes place once a decade and the first was led by Thomas Jefferson in 1790, so this was 230 years and counting. Census 2020 was the first U.S. Census with an option for households to respond online, by phone or by mail. More than 332 million people were being counted in Census 2020.

The initiative is to accurately count every living person in the United States and its five territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The count is used by the federal government to understand where every person is located, so that proper representation is given to their district, and equally important, to determine federal funding for schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, etc. There are 435 Representatives in Congress and billions of dollars being allocated. Promotional products were used for various purposes, the main objective being to create awareness, inspire and motivate individuals to participate.

The Proposal

There was a tremendous amount of leg work, research and upfront planning, over 12 months leading up to Stran being awarded that business. In August 2018, Stran was looking to get involved in big events and national campaigns, and decided to go after the U.S. Census. From an idea, with no contacts and no connections, we spent weeks doing homework and figured if we started earlier enough, we could get a jump on competitors. We researched, read and eventually found some contacts on LinkedIn. We put together a list of potential decision makers, made cold calls and sent emails. We asked for referrals to get to the right people and wrote out an assumed organizational chart. We continued to read more and do more research. We asked the right questions, learned about the campaign, the timeline, the success factors and the fears. Then, we developed a success strategy based on these learnings. We knew that an RFP was coming, and when it was released, we already knew the client’s goals, their objectives, their brand, their vocabulary and their marketing initiatives. We understood their business objectives and we won the project.

The Program

The promotional products were used in a year‐long experiential marketing campaign, which was part of an overall consumer activation program that included various other forms of marketing: print media, outdoor advertising, radio, TV, digital and social media, as well as consumer activation at festivals, music venues and sporting events, and tens of thousands of community outreach initiatives. All activities were designed to help drive awareness and increase participation in Census 2020.

End users were multi‐layered and included census regional staff, enumerators (door-to-door counters), count committees, sponsors and, of course, the national audience of those being counted. There was an array of initiatives, each with a specialized audience. As an example, we did a program called Statistics in Schools, which brought school subjects to life using real-world Census Bureau statistics, teaching an audience of children K‐ 8 the importance of the Census. We did another called Count of Young Children, which was a campaign targeted at new and expectant mothers to minimize the undercount of newborns. Babies are to be counted if they were born prior to Census Day, which was April 1, 2020.

We delivered over 16 million products printed with various logos in 15 different languages. They were all made in the U.S. and purchased from over 30 registered industry vendors throughout the U.S. Products varied from pens, pencils and erasers to water bottles, coffee cups and ceramic mugs; tote bags and string bags, key chains and phone holders, bibs, baby caps, t‐shirts, polos and baseball caps. Various logos in 15 different languages made reviewing proofs unique and quite challenging.

Sourcing the enormous number of products in a small period of time, and ensuring all products were made in the U.S.A. was an initial challenge. Value engineering products to meet budget demands, while coordinating with our suppliers so they could obtain the large quantities of materials they needed in order to produce the products consistently month after month, was another challenge. 

In order to meet the unique requirements of this project, Stran assigned a team of experts experienced in working closely with U.S.-based factories to provide product assortments that were produced in the U.S. from start to finish. The dedicated team worked diligently to identify the product supply that fit all program requirements at the most competitive price. Additionally, Stran was able to partner with Amazon to develop an online ordering platform for local, state and regional census organizations to purchase officially branded products online, which provided ready access to a comprehensive product selection for all levels of government.

Branded mugs for the press briefing (top) and drink ware, bags and pens (above) were among the logoed products Stran Promotional Solutions provided to spread the word about the Census 2020 campaign. 

The Results

In the face of a global pandemic, the Census 2020 campaign thrived and was considered a tremendous success, breaking all previous records. This year’s national census recorded a 99.98 percent response rate from addresses across the country. The self‐response rate was at an all-time high of 67 percent highlighting the success of our awareness campaign. 


Pour yourself a drink with the Exclusive Mug America. This 12-ounce glass mug makes for an ideal addition to any onboarding or anniversary gift. 

Moderne Glass Co.  /  PPAI 112536, S10  /  www.glassamerica.com


Keep track of last night's rain with the triangle rain gauge. With its triangle design, this American-made gauge can hold up to seven inches of rain. The tapered-point stake can be inserted directly into the ground or it can be mounted to a post or deck with your own screws. Perfect for any gardener or farmer, this black-top, acrylic rain gauge will endure all kinds of weather. With silk-screened imprint available, it makes for a great promotional item with plenty ad space for farmers or ranchers. 

HPG  /  PPAI 792175, S11  /  www.hpgbrands.com


Made to look like embroidery, these U.S.A.-made DigiStitch Patches are fun accessories that can elevate any look. There are no color limits for these full-color dye sublimation patches. For most designs, the entire area of the patch can have the DigiStitch look, except for small lettering (one-eighth of an inch and smaller).

Suntex Industries  /  PPAI 113094, S5  /  www.suntexindustries.com


Pass the time with this extra-large puzzle. Choose the image that will appear once this 432-piece puzzle is assembled. The puzzle allows for imprint on the front and a full imprint on the outside of the box. Commemorate or celebrate any event with this 18-inch by 24-inch challenge. 

The Chest  /  PPAI 111653, S6  /  www.chestinc.com


This metal die-cut tacker sign is the ultimate customizable display. American-made from embossed aluminum, this sign can be designed in any size or shape up to 30 by 40 inches. The custom shape requires a temporary cutting tool charge that varies depending on size and detail. This is an ideal promotional item for sports teams and college athletic clubs. A standout at special events, this customized sign will also garner repeated exposure for your client’s brand. 

Dixie Seal & Stamp Co., Inc.  /  PPAI 113712, S6  /  www.dixiline.com


This four-in-one kitchen tool features a spoon, slotted spoon, turner and a serrated edge for a variety of kitchen jobs. The durable dishwasher-safe nylon construction can be used on the grill or stovetop and will withstand short-term exposure to temperatures up to 375°F. 

Evans Manufacturing, Inc.  /  PPAI 110747, S10  /  www.evans-mfg.com


Recognize a job well done with the Vitality Award. This cast stone award has a carbon fiber, textured accent molded into the backer to give it a modern touch. Made in Iowa, the three-panel accent can be coated in one of seven metallic colors. The layout is digitally UV-printed in full color.

StoneyCreek  /  PPAI 113068, S5  /  www.stoneycreekus.com


Available in standard or slim, this can sleeve is guaranteed to keep a drink cool. It holds a 12-ounce can with a Cryo-Lok system that traps in cold while blocking out heat, and keeping hands from touching a cold can. It also folds easily to store in a back pocket.

Allen Company  /  PPAI 113879, S5  /  www.allenmugs.com


Made in the U.S.A, the Origin'L Fabric Antimicrobial Mouse Pad is a must-have for any workspace. The soft fabric surface provides the comfort and superior performance that computer users have come to expect. As an added value, users appreciate the antimicrobial protection on this 7.5-inch-by-eight-inch mousepad. In today's wireless world, mousepads have plenty of uses in businesses, offices, banks and hospitals using desktop computers.   

DIGISPEC  /  PPAI 180432, S7  /  www.digispec.com


Perfect for spreading a message, add these silicone bracelets to your next promotion. One-hundred percent American-made, these customizable bracelets work well for school, university and youth group fundraisers, as well as sports teams, festivals and concerts. Screen print or deeply deboss (shown) a slogan or logo into the bracelet. 

Wristbands America  /  PPAI 315058, S1  /  www.wristbands-america.com


Acknowledge a valuable team member with The Merger. This perpetual plaque is made from rich walnut with an embedded metal strip that allows for magnetic plates to be added as needed. The Merger is well-suited for employee-of-the-month, annual awards or any honor. 

Visions/Awardcraft  /  PPAI 113370, S8  /  www.va-ac.com


This acrylic phone stand is made with a vibrant full-color digital graphic under optically clear acrylic measuring one-fourth of an inch thick. The phone stand ships flat and comes polybagged with an instruction label, through assembly is easy: simply slide the base through the stand. Custom shaping is offered at no additional charge within the standard template. This U.S.A.-made phone stand is available in a variety of sizes, material and thickness options.

Morris Magnets  /  PPAI 182605, S6  /  www.lasercutsline.com


Brighten recipients’ day with the Flat Suncatcher Ornament. This small, reflective ornament is approximately three inches in size and is offered in white or clear shatterproof plastic. Manufactured and printed in the U.S., this ornament will “catch” the light and transform the space around it. 

WhatNot Ventures  /  PPAI 608341, S2  /  www.whatnotventures.com


Show off a client’s personality on the beach with the jacquard-woven towel. For a more luxurious, high-quality feel, this towel addition will make any beach day comfier. These U.S.A.-made towels provide excellent value for smaller projects. The rich look of jacquard weaving with up to three colors per line ensures that custom artwork will appear clean and vibrant, while the terry-hemmed edges provide a neatly finished look.

Pro Towels  /  PPAI 112755, S8  /  www.protowels.com


Made in Akron, Ohio, the Sof-Loop™ key tag includes wrap-around, full-bleed print graphics and personalization options. This key tag provides everyday hands-free utility, which is perfect for markets such as education, nonprofit organizations, public awareness campaigns, health care and transportation.

Quikey Manufacturing Co., Inc.  /  PPAI 114055, S8  /   www.quikey.com


The American-made Colorama Stylus AM Pen is formulated with an antimicrobial additive that is included in the exterior plastic parts, including the grip. The additive technology provides antimicrobial product protection against unwanted microorganisms that could damage the pen or user. This pen also features a stylus that is ideal for hands-free use on touchscreens. Decorated with full-color, SimpliColor 360 full-wrap imprint technology and offered with gel-like, black Eversmooth® ink, this retractable ballpoint pen is great for any business, including health care, hospitals, restaurants, food service, education, schools, banks and hotels. 

Goldstar  /  PPAI 114031, S10  /  www.goldstarpens.com


Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB. 

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