PPAI’s annual Pyramids in Marketing competition recognizes the finest examples of marketing in the promotional industry across five categories: branding, cause advocacy, digital self-promotion, self-promotion and supplier sales support materials. Since 1958, the Pyramid program has attracted the Association’s most talented marketers for its top award in creativity and, in turn, inspired and fostered infinite creativity within the medium. 


Entry Name: Hub Rebrand

To modernize and reintroduce one of the industry’s best-known names to the market. Hub’s reputation for customer service is outstanding but had little brand presence or affinity.

Strategy And Execution: The inspiration for Hub’s logo came from modern, San Francisco startup companies including Allbirds and Faraday Bicycles. The thin, simple line weight and cursive logos looked modern yet whimsical. The word “pen” was dropped from the name in the logo for a few reasons. One, market testing showed the word “Hub” within the context of pen suppliers was/is synonymous with pens. Two, Hub already had products beyond pens and planned to expand that part of the assortment. Competitors use a motif imprinted on all of their pens to tag their products without distracting from the end-user imprints. Hub was doing this on some SKUs but was doing so inconsistently and the logo was visibly spelling out the name as well. By creating a distinctive “H” for Hub, it could be used as an icon on pens instead. All new pens produced by Hub include the “H” and older SKUs will follow suit as manufacturing tooling is replaced. The color palette was chosen to be more relevant to Boston, the city that the company’s name comes from. Boston sports teams and its proximity to the ocean were inspirations. The logo also needed to be more modern, distinctive and consciously less masculine to broaden the design appeal.

Results: The rebrand saw an increase in customer sentiment and significant improvements in web traffic including doubling traffic in the two months post-launch compared to the two months prior. A redesigned, rebranded pen mailer sent to more than 15,000 customers yielded a 300-percent increase in promo code usage.

In the two months post-launch, the bounce rate was reduced by 52 percent and page views increased by 227 percent. The redesigned, rebranded pen mailer had the highest promo code response on record with over three times the prior average usage.

Entry Name: 2019 National Sales Meeting

Objective: To reset the stage for what the AIA Community can expect from events moving forward. 

Strategy And Execution: The development of the theme and brand for the meeting (Momentum In The Mountains) started with months of research on the event location of Park City, Utah. After completing numerous site visits, the distributor team left inspired by the landscape of the location. The theme and brand were created by combining the beauty of Park City and the desire to show that the event would create movement (momentum) and growth in AIA’s owners’ businesses. The meeting’s slogan consisted of three powerful words—strengthen, summit and succeed—to describe the benefits that attendees would reap by attending the event. The logo is constructed with two main symbolic components: a mountain range nestled inside of a circle. AIA also took into consideration that its logo would be imprinted on a variety of promotional products. By utilizing one color and four layout options, AIA was able to successfully create a flexible logo family that could be incorporated onto any promotional product.

Results: With an increased budget of $350,000 and the in-house ability to re-brand the event, this event successfully set the stage for what can be expected at future AIA events. 



Entry Name: Stormtech’s 1:1 Initiative

Primary Objective: One of Stormtech’s core values is to embrace the outdoors, the planet and the people we share it with, especially future generations. The 1:1 Initiative provides vital supplies to community organizations that introduce youth to the life-changing experience of outdoor adventure. Each Stormtech purchase enables its partner organizations to continue inspiring young people to believe in themselves and know that it doesn’t matter where they come from; all that matters is where they are going. Stormtech’s commitment is to donate one percent of total global sales in the form of donated products.

Strategy And Execution: The 1:1 Initiative concept was approved to launch in September 2018. Stormtech committed to donating one jacket for every jacket sold online. The program was intended to apply to only direct-to-consumer online retail sales, but in January 2019, the initiative was officially rolled out to the promotional product channel. As the program gained speed and interest, distributor partners began inquiring about how they could get involved. This led to the expansion of the 1:1 Initiative to include all Stormtech sales in all channels and markets. The program rollout consisted of an integrated marketing campaign with the following elements: awareness emails with a recruitment call-to-action, a landing page with a sign-up form, a homepage banner, social posts and trade-show signage.

Results: The promotion successfully achieved the one-percent goal by donating 7,386 items and counting to organizations across North America. The 1:1 Initiative directly supported thousands of students, children and young adults from all walks of life, through organizations including Take a Hike Foundation, Button and Zipper and First Book Foundation.  


Entry Name: Not So Burger

Primary Objective: The digital campaign showcases the creative application of Spector branding solutions for promotional products and elevates cost-effective products to attain higher-perceived values, experiences and increased brand recognition.

Strategy And Execution: The distinguishing factors of this campaign are the concept, branding, packaging and presentation that force the audience to do a double-take. Everything from the corporate logo to the “Do you want promo with that?” slogan played off that strategy. Pens resembling french fries are packaged in a custom sleeve and an earbud case reminiscent of a burger bun is placed inside an iconic burger box. The humidifier provides the basic color and shape of a fountain drink, and is especially convincing when topped with a straw.

Results: The posts generated more than 11,000 impressions, far exceeding the 4,500 targeted audience. In the Canadian market, the email open rate was 37 percent with a 3.8-percent click rate, doubling the average benchmarks rates set by Mailchimp for the marketing and advertising industries. Several distributors have used the images as posts for their social accounts. This campaign also piqued distributor inquiries for additional creative conceptual support and customizable packaging options. 

Entry Name: Let’s Get Phygital Campaign

Primary Objective: The campaign was designed to thank clients in a new way using the power of promotional products, custom art, charitable giving options and the receipt of optional feedback on its ShineBig digital platform through comments, photos and video. To connect both physically (with great branded merch) and digitally (video, charitable impact selection, a digital art reveal and feedback) equals “phygital.” The program had five goals: thank customers, let them choose a nonprofit the distributor would support on their behalf, surprise and delight them, allow for engagement and show how promo products can enhance digital marketing.  

Strategy And Execution: Brand Fuel mailed every customer an original-painted art block with a specific code and URL on the back. Customers also received a custom journal that looked like a cassette tape. Clients went to the website listed on the back of the art block, watched a thank-you video from the Brand Fuel team, entered their special code, selected a charity and then a digital version of their physical art block blinking within the entire jukebox painting on the site was revealed. Clients were then given an opportunity to share comments, photos or video as feedback. The distributor followed up by mailing t-shirts with the jukebox design from the original painting, that was also on the website, to top clients and those who provided engagement. 

Results: Forty-eight percent of customers responded by selecting a charity through the digital interface and 11.4 percent responded with their own holiday/appreciation photo/video on the digital platform. The unintended ROI was 467 percent with eight customers showing immediate interest in the platform for their companies, and Brand Fuel also closed a $78,000 program with a client.

Entry Name: Tomato Air

Primary Objective: The ultimate goal of this digital self-promotion was to help drive sales leading into the financial year-end and to boost Christmas sales through a creative campaign.  

Strategy And Execution: Red Tomato created a memorable campaign based on a fictional airline, Tomato Air, that emphasized delivering the ultimate VIP experience. Slogans were used in conjunction with this promotion with the tagline “Going the extra mile—literally!” on products. The slogan/call-to-action, “Ready to take off?” was used in marketing collateral. The graphic design team created a stylized Tomato Air logo for all self-promo collateral that was used with an image of a Tomato Air plane with the New York skyline in the background. Products were selected based on their relevance to the concept of travel and air flight including a custom boarding pass, toiletry bag, eye mask, travel toothbrush, aviator sunglasses in a custom pouch, socks and an airline-style lapel pin—a lasting token of joining the Tomato Air crew. The strategy included a news release launching Tomato Air, staggered product mailings, an email campaign, phone calls, a call-to-action on the Tomatoair.com website to claim the amenities kit and the launch of an in-flight magazine, The Flying Tomato.

Results: The campaign drove a sales increase of more than 18 percent over the previous period and led to more than 60 conversions on the website in the first two months. Orders over $5,000 also increased by 10 percent over the previous period, and social media engagement increased by 15 percent on video views, post likes and followers. 

Entry Name: International Chocolate Day

Primary Objective: To showcase how the creative application of branding solutions for promotional products can be leveraged to differentiate the media in crowded marketing places. Spector wanted its partners to follow suit and push their own creativity with next-level branding concepts.

Strategy And Execution: September 13 is International Chocolate Day and the birth date of Milton S. Hershey, founder of The Hershey Company. Our strategy was to surprise followers with trendy, client-safe images of our creative samples posted on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. By incorporating Chocolate Day hashtags, the supplier hoped it would increase visibility through its channels. Because the content was designed to be client-safe, Spector encouraged everyone to promote its content independently and in correlation with their own marketing efforts.

Results: The posts generated more than 1.7 million impressions collectively across all three platforms, and represented a 30-percent increase over its initial goals and about 38 percent of its collective followers. Immediately after the release of these posts, Spector started receiving requests for quotes and virtuals of exact replications of its designs. 


Entry Name: Camp CREATIVE Open House

Primary Objective: To increase revenue by attracting numerous new prospects as well as connecting with existing clients at its Camp CREATIVE Open House Event. The goal of this promotion was to increase not only prospect attendance from the distributor’s last open house but also increase revenue by a minimum of 20 percent from the same period in the previous year. And, specifically, CREATIVE Promo Marketing Agency’s  ultimate goal was to initiate and strengthen new and existing relationships with purchasers and marketing personnel at small- to medium-sized companies.

Strategy And Execution: The distributor created a summer-camp-themed event based on fun, childhood experiences and learning moments. To help create a camp atmosphere, the team rented a historic cabin—the perfect backdrop for Camp CREATIVE. They also designed event invitations printed on eco-friendly, seeded paper. When guests arrived at the event, they were given a bag that used Digiscan technology so they could use their smartphones to see the digital version of successful projects in the project pavilion. All guests also received a marketing survival kit of promotional products. Instead of using a typical lanyard, an old-school button was attached to each bag where guests could write their name. Prizes (donated by vendors) were given at a fishing game and the distributor created a sticker book area with free journals that guests could add their own stickers to. After guests visited all stations at the camp, they were given the marketing survival kit. 

Results: The distributor targeted 225 prospects and clients, but nearly 340 people attended the event. In addition to surpassing its attendance target, sales grew by 28 percent over the same period in the previous year. 


Entry Name: ‘Tis the Season to Spread Joy

Primary Objective: To increase brand awareness of Terry Town and showcase its personalization, printing and packaging capabilities. The campaign was created for the holiday season to thank distributor and supplier partners. By crafting a holiday gift box full of printed and personalized accessories, Terry Town was able to provide practical and unique solutions for those end-of-year appreciation gifts.

Strategy And Execution: Crafting the gift boxes was the result of a multiple department collaboration. With its holiday theme, the supplier wanted the products included to be practical and fit the retail-quality look they were going for. The final products selected were those that recipients would be proud to showcase in their homes and on sales calls including a personalized Appalachian fur-lined throw, a travel neck pillow and an eye mask. All products were printed with dye sublimation, making the artwork consistent across all items, and packed with a hand-written note in a collapsible gift box. The final artwork chosen featured a pattern of navy and teal squares, with pine trees and polar bears. 

Results: When Terry Town compared a span of three months before and after sending the gift boxes, it achieved the following results: for its neck pillows, the supplier saw a sales increase of 12 percent and for the fur-lined throw, an increase of 87 percent. 


Entry Name: 10 Days of Origaudio

Primary Objective: To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, Origaudio wanted to thank past and current customers, raise more awareness of the brand and increase sales in a typically slower part of the season. 

Strategy And Execution: Origaudio created an unusual, intriguing survey where respondents could have a chance to win a series of prizes including a surprise puppy party, three months of billboard space, a personalized video message from a Flava Flav lookalike and a $10,000 company credit. A brief survey was created to gather data on customers. Then an eblast was sent out every morning of the 10-day campaign detailing the day’s thank-you and giving a recap of what happened the day prior. The daily blasts were only sent to those who opted in via the website or survey. A webpage was built and updated each day. Some of the wildest prizes, in addition to those listed above, included delivery of a 20-foot sandwich and a surprise visit from a barbershop quartet. 

Results: More than 1,000 people took part in the survey, more than 6,000 engaged with the activities and over $180,000 of business was generated from the event. 


Entry Name: Reintroducing the OrderMyGear Technology Platform

Primary Objective: This program was to launch the refreshed OMG branding, increase overall market awareness, educate attendees on the role of online pop-up stores in their sales strategy and thank clients for their continued partnership.

Strategy And Execution: OMG introduced a new booth at The PPAI Expo 2020 with space for on-site meetings and a completely rebranded image positioning the business services company as a powerful technology partner. OMG also designed and distributed a Hanes Beefy-T and X-Temp Triblend tee at the show; an online store was created to take sizes and orders, and approximately 500 orders were placed prior to the show. At the show, when attendees picked up their shirt, they were encouraged to wear them on the floor the next day and return to the booth for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card by spinning the OMG roulette wheel. This kept attendees engaged with OMG throughout the show, as well as drove additional traffic to the booth. Also, to show appreciation for top clients and get to know new prospects, OMG gave them bright OMG green Under Armour shoes in custom OMG-branded shoe boxes at the show. Clients and prospects could order their sizes via an OMG online store in advance and they picked them up at the show. Augusta and Founder Sport Group also hosted OMG podiums in their booths, where buyers could discuss online store strategy and increasing product sales with an OMG rep.

Results: Overall, the campaign led to higher booth traffic, increased engagement, new business and client satisfaction. OMG achieved a 36-percent increase in leads over the prior year’s show and held more than 24 one-on-one meetings with prospects, successfully closing 62 percent of the deals. Also, it closed 66 percent more new accounts in the 90-days following The PPAI Expo than in the previous year, enhanced client engagement by holding 32 client meetings to review metrics, discuss strategy and provide training on new features, and increased overall partner engagement, holding 16 partner meetings.

Entry Name: Meaningful Communication in a Pandemic

Primary Objective: To send positive thoughts, energy and ideas at a difficult time, keep the company top of mind without trying to sell anything, do the right thing, live the brand and keep program cost dollars as local as possible.

Strategy And Execution: We created a strategic plan that included meaningful and relevant content for key stakeholders and delivered it using email blasts, personal email, direct mail, social media and phone calls. The content followed themes of uncertainty, positive energy, stronger together, staying connected, in this together, self-care to recharge, power of the human gesture, unsung heroes, word energy, the next normal and blossoming your mindset. 

Results: Hillary’s received numerous emails, texts and phone calls from its target audience thanking the distributor for all of the thoughtful ideas to help them stay positive, and it earned four new clients. 




Entry Name: Mystery Box

Primary Objective: The primary objective of the program was to deliver a piece of the “skummunity” to commonsku’s customers and friends, even though at the time of the campaign they were not able to be together in-person. commonsku also wanted to exemplify that with careful thought and consideration, you can create a great product and campaign out of recycled banners from its previous events.

Strategy And Execution: Early on it was decided to send Mystery Boxes to recipients’ homes to create an element of surprise. commonsku also wanted the campaign to be fun and bright, a happy note amongst all the uncertainty and gloom that was going on in the world at that time. The product selection was easy: custom tote bags made from previous event banners and an uplifting card. commonsku wanted the experience of opening the box to be a special one, so it partnered with supplier Numo, which packaged the 75 boxes with crinkle paper and a postcard explaining the item for those recipients who may not have attended one of commonsku’s events before.

Results: The result was an absolute outpouring of support, completely unsolicited, from those who received the box. Customers and supporters are commonsku’s biggest form of advertising and they were pleased with the organic promotion of the campaign.


Entry Name: FPS Apparel Sample Kit

Primary Objective: To drive sales and awareness of its top- selling custom apparel items: hoodie, bomber jacket, pocket tee, allover print tee and button-down shirt.

Strategy And Execution: The supplier started creating the FPS Apparel Sample Kit in the spring/summer of 2019 with the goal of driving business in the fall/winter on its most popular sublimated apparel while also building awareness and providing distributors with a convenient tool to help sell its unique apparel. The supplier’s creative and marketing teams worked together to curate its top-selling items which were branded with the most recognizable logos the supplier worked with over the year. FPS Apparel created a branded box to allow for simple, convenient distribution of the samples while promoting the FPS brand. Along with the samples, each box contained backup information on each product inside. Distributors featured the kit in their showrooms and client meetings. The supplier also made the sample kits available on its website for purchase and promoted them via email campaigns and social media.

Results: FPS Apparel saw immediate growth in sales in fourth quarter of 2019, particularly on the five products in the kit. Its fourth-quarter 2019 sales rose 64 percent relative to the fourth quarter in 2018 (an increase of about $650,000). The supplier followed that with its best first quarter ever as a company in 2020. Additionally, it attributed nearly $1 million worth of custom apparel projects directly to the sample kits.


Entry Name: Sales Support Material That Doesn’t Suck

Primary Objective: AZX wanted to create sales support materials to help distributors sell straws and showcase AZX’s differentiating factors. AZX became a bin sponsor at three industry trade shows to get the products in front of the maximum number of people while minimizing logistics costs. 

Strategy And Execution: The “ex-STRAW-dinary” package of distributor sales materials drove traffic to the booth and started a bigger conversation about sustainability. AZX Sport also created sales support materials that make it easy for distributors to showcase and sell to their customers, ensuring everything is branded so people know where they received it, and gaining awareness in a category where a distributor may not think of AZX, thus increasing sales.

Results: This program nearly tripled booth traffic, reduced individual sample requests for straws from the show by 90 percent, increased quote opportunities on straws by nearly 350 percent and increased search results on multiple platforms. The supplier also received many orders as a direct result of the campaign, the largest worth $50,000. 


The entry period for PPAI’s 2022 Pyramid program opened April 1 and closes May 7, 2021, for submissions in categories of Client Programs, Marketing Programs, Supplier Decorating and Technology. Find the entry form and details at www.ppai.org/members/awards/company-recognition. In the PPAI Supplier Star competition, PPAI member distributors can vote for their top supplier companies based on communication, customer service, product quality, decorating and packaging. Voting begins May 24 and ends June 18, 2021. Log in at awards.ppai.org/supplierstars. 


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.