The Case for Responsibly Sourced Branded Merchandise

Here’s a case for why associations should think about responsibly sourcing their promotional products in order to protect their brands.

Last month, the American Association of Advertising Agencies announced the launch of a new brand safety initiative to create a process for flagging instances of ads appearing in an environment that the advertiser might find undesirable, notifying ad agencies, and investigating what happened.

These brand safety concerns were echoed in a recently released Quality Certification Alliance whitepaper. “There is a legitimate concern for challenges posed by ads that appear alongside material that may be considered offensive to some,” wrote Tim Brown, QCA’s executive director—operations. “While the focus on content placement is a legitimate concern for brands, it is not the only consideration marketers face. When viewed holistically, brand safety is about much more than content placement. It encompasses every aspect of a brand’s image.”

In “Brand Safety—More than Just Digital Media,” Brown argues that marketers should be similarly concerned with their brand safety offline, as they are online—namely on any promotional product that bears the association’s name or logo. Think bags, water bottles, phone chargers, key chains, among others, which are all handed out at association conferences.

“Associations are all formed for some common good,” Brown said. “They have some type of cause. … If your cause is protecting humanity, building up humanity, improving living conditions—whatever it is—if you buy a product that was made by children in the deep mountains of China by slave labor or by abused labor or by people who aren’t being paid appropriately, it stands against everything the association claims to stand for.”

In addition to the ethical considerations, associations need to be thinking about the safety of the promotional products. Take, for example, an electronics association with a mission of helping people make safe electronics, who is handing out power banks that haven’t been tested for thermal runaway. “Now you’re putting something in someone’s hands that has a higher likelihood of catching fire,” he said.

On top of the ethical and safety considerations, there are numerous state and federal laws around branded merchandise—which, according to Brown, means that if regulations aren’t followed and something happens (say lead is found in the paint on your promo water bottles), it can damage your carefully curated association brand.

So, what’s an association to do? One option is to contract with a qualified promotional products consultant [PDF], who is well-versed in the legal, ethical, environmental, and safety landscape of promotional products and can recommend responsibly sourced products.

But if that’s not an option, Brown says associations can also do this themselves by following a few tips:

Demand greater vendor transparency. Brown recommends that associations ask lots of questions of their branded merchandise vendors, including: Do you understand the responsible sourcing best practices in the industry? Are you abreast of the current consumer product safety laws as it pertains to promotional products? Are you equipped to properly source items that are primarily intended for children?

Align association values with promotional products. In purchasing products, associations also need to make sure that they were created in a way that aligns with their values. At the end of the day, “associations are there to do good, to make sure good is done, to protect people and businesses,” Brown said, adding that responsibly sourcing promo products helps to do this. “Their brand is their most valuable asset because nobody’s going to care about an association or an organization that does not have values, and it’s proven that they don’t even conduct themselves in a manner that is in line with their proposed values,” he said.

What safeguards do you have in place to ensure you’re protecting your brand by using responsibly sourced merchandise? Please leave your comments below.

(aopsan/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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