I went to BAM to get some inspiration, and wandered over to the bookmark rack to see if they had any new products. I found four that jogged my imagination in different ways: The Book Holder by That Company Called If; a nifty little man-shaped plastic clip that holds your book open while you read it ($3.99); a foiled and embossed double-sided inspirational bookmark by Vibrant Expressions ($2.99); a Plant Me I'll Grow bookmark by Lil Bloomer that is embedded with annual and perennial wildflower seeds ($2.99); and a neat little box of twelve Herman Yu Flora bookmarks by teNeues ($6.95).
Using a ready-made product as a promo widget isn't anything new; writers have been doing it forever. The weirder the item, the more attention it gets -- I remember one RWA National I went to where one author had parked a basket of real chili peppers in the goody room. I'm not really into the gimmicky promo stuff, so I prefer to build around a product, using something ready-made as a theme for the rest of the promo. Back in December, the snowflake tote I picked up at B&N became the central theme of my holiday giveaway, from the Let it Snow title to most of the bag's contents.
teNeues' box of bookmarks caught my eye because there were a dozen (one for every month of the year), the bookmarks individually were cheap (about fifty-eight cents each) and there's a place for notes on the back of each one (readers who like to keep track of what they read could jot down titles there), there are two of each design (perfect for sharing with a reader friend) and the flower theme is attractive but general enough that I can pair a lot of things with it. For this giveaway I could go with flower seeds and gardening stuff for a floral theme, an all-year theme with calendars and other time management helpers, or a share-with-a-friend theme by offering two of everything.
Some ready-made items can also be a jumping-off point for your promo; you add some items to help with the use of your theme product (such as a gardening guide, a pretty flower pot and a pair of weeding gloves for the bookmark with the seeds embedded in it.)
As a reader I'm most attracted to unusual promo that has a practical purpose. I like things I can actually use, especially when I went to conferences and had a limited amount of space in my suitcases. I love tote bags and I use a million of them, but I've never found one used for promo that was particularly sturdy or had pockets for small items. I passed on most of the custom promo, as even the most attractive cover art on an item becomes quickly dated, and unattractive cover art is just sad.
One final note: the more gimmicky something is, the more leery I become, especially when an item poses more of a hazard than a benefit. The basket of chili peppers I mentioned definitely grabbed my attention, but as someone who frequently cooks with them I know they shouldn't be handled without protective gloves on. So that promo actually backfired; I didn't touch the peppers or take any of the actual book-related stuff parked with them.