Having been in the radio industry for some time, I've seen a dizzying array of bric-a-brac that seems to serve two purposes: collecting dust and wasting money.
One of my colleagues had probably close to 20 framed gold or platinum records/CDs, given to him as a gesture of thanks for airplay. Turns out that he sold most of them, including one of the sillier ones I've seen, from a New Radicals song that reached something like No. 79 on the charts, and one from R. Kelly from 1995. Another colleague had a cabinet topped with what could only be described as an explosion at a clown equipment store: all kinds of junk that no one would want, just taking up space.
HBO is a different story, though. They won me over instantly with, of all things, pens.
The first was a simple green ballpoint with the HBO logo. The pen was a nice size and well-balanced, with very good ink flow. Thankfully, not many people get to see what passes for writing from me. Think chicken scratches ... after an absinthe bender. However, this first HBO pen gave me the ability to write poorly with confidence. Sadly, it was "borrowed" from my desk, never to be heard from again.
The second HBO pen, in support of "Carnivale," is the friggin' Mont Blanc of promotional pens. Nice, heavier metal with a classy color scheme and superior ink flow that says, "I may have shi**y penmanship, but this is a damn fine pen." Much like the 1992 Honda Accord I own, I will use this pen until it stops working. Additionally, this pen will never be out of my sight. Steal my HBO "Carnivale" pen, and I will hunt you down.
I'm not sure where I stand on promotional items. My gut tells me that they are a waste of time and money unless it is something overwhelmingly cool. But I have yet to see anything that just blows me away. As a small agency, I can think of plenty more important things to spend our money on. Personally, I think the best promotion is just being able to deliver the best work you can for clients, and let the rest work itself out. That said, give me something I can use and fall in love with, and you've got me.
That's exactly what HBO did. And all it took was a couple of pens.