The Sad Death of the Beloved Tchotchke

Farewell, beloved tchotchke.

The Sad Death of the Beloved Tchotchke image iStock 000017213272XSmallThe Sad Death of the Beloved TchotchkeToday marks the timely death of the tchotchke, those little baubles from conferences and tradeshows you all knew and loved. At one time, the tchotchke roamed the marketing countryside in the tens of millions. They took many forms, like the ever-popular personal fan emblazoned with some ubiquitous logo, or the fold-up Frisbee, complete with waterproof carrying case. In later years, they gave rise to lipstick-disguised USB keys, or 8-in-1 power adapters plus corkscrew (in case you are drinking and charging your device at the same time). The tchotchke was over 100 years old and had been showing its age in later years.

Remembering the golden age of tchotchke

The tchotchke was the default way to showcase your brand to thousands of physical attendees at conferences, tradeshows, and at other gatherings. Tchotchke supply houses – loving called “promotional products” – sprang up around the globe, ever ready to separate marketers and sales teams from their money faster than Jack gave up his cow for a few promotional beans. (“These beans will take your name to new heights (wink),” said the salesman). The tchotchke thrived on the belief that these high-touch knick-knacks would be forever present on executives desks, passed around to teams back at HQ, or would promote the brand in such a unique way that the executive would be compelled to engage with your sales team. “I must say, I did not know I needed an entire marketing automation system until I saw your keychain flashlight in metallic burnt sienna and suddenly I knew you were the brand for me!”

To be fair, during a time when brand exposure and communications were limited to pre-Internet mediums, the tchotchke was an adequate way to brand and promote your company. These low cost, low risk items certainly did not generally hurt you brand. Or did they…?

What killed the tchotchke?

The rise of new forms of communication (social media, Web, virtual conference, interactive experiences, etc.) has led to the steady decline of the tchotchke. As consumers woke up to their desire for new experiences with the brand, they also fully realized that cheap bling often signified the mindset of the sales and marketing organization promoting their brand in this fashion. ”If you think your brand is best personified by lime green novelty folding sunglasses, do I want to do business with you – in a company where we take our brand seriously?”

As the consumer demanded better experiences, the marketing and sales team honed their content to accurately reflect their brand, created beautiful digital experiences, and drove value from the interactions between brand and customer. The poor tchotchke was caught in the crossfire and was unable to rigorously establish itself in a digital world.

Long live the branded experience

The death of the tchotchke has given way to a new “tchotchke replacement” – the so-called “branded experience.” These new physical products and promotional items are more thoughtful, usually more expensive, and always more demonstrative of the brand. Where the tchotchke was gimmicky, the branded experience is a reflection of the brand and the experience the brand would like the customer to have with them. They can be fun, elegant, serious, or even whimsical, but always showcase the thoughtful intention of your brand. Branded experiences will always understand the need or desire of your audience and provide some connection between that desire and your brand. A great example of this was a beautiful framed poster of design elements of the future automobile experience from a manufacturer attracting automotive enthusiasts. This is a far cry from “branded by tote bag.”

Rumors persist…

While the tchotchke is officially dead, there are still persistent rumor of them in remote locations. Some have heard tell of them popping up on Venice Beach and Waikiki or at “free with every purchase” offers at Yarn Barns. I suppose that wherever there is a quick buck to be made, the tchotchke will show its resilience and re-emerge. Come to think of it, I did just get some shot glasses and a travel candle as the gift bag from little Megan’s 5th birthday party.

Party on, Megan. Party on.

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