“What’s Trending in 2018?”

It’s the burning question that brought tens of thousands of professionals in the branding business to Las Vegas last week for the annual PPAI Expo.  We gathered in great numbers to see new products, collaborate with the best in the business, and find out what the guiding trends for promotional products will be in 2018.  And with more than 1,200 supplier booths, and over a quarter of a million products on display, the convention offered a lot to take in, to say the least.

PPAI

But not to worry, we’ve got some key takeaways to help you and your brand navigate the promo waters in 2018.  We conquered the convention floor, visited supplier partners and tested out products to identify 3 key trends you can expect to see in promotional products this year.

On top of that, we’ve also put together an idea book with some of our favorite products from the show.  From apparel to tech and everything in between, we’ve got you covered on your marketing efforts in 2018.  So without further ado, here are our top 3 takeaways from the expo!

Trend #1: Smart Tech & Accessories

Tech products have always been highly sought after and a crowd favorite, but what’s new and trending this year is what I like to call “Smart Tech” products.  Smart Tech products can be classified as any product that integrates with your mobile device and also generally requires a paired application to access features.

So what does this mean for your brand?

It means that promotional products which traditionally are a physical medium, are going digital.  And with more than 75% of Americans owning a smartphone and averaging 5 hours of screen time a day, smartphones create a massive opportunity to connect with customers.

virtual reality

While walking through the expo, anytime a Smart Tech product was on display, a line of people waiting to learn more followed.  Popular products with smartphone integrations ranged from branded VR headsets to smart journals that capture your freehand notes and digitize to your screen for easy sharing. The perfect companion for those who want digital notes, but don’t want to bring their large laptops to meetings.  Smart Tech products are all about sparking creativity while also making things easier for the user.  And of course, they make great branding pieces.

To expand on the trend – smartwatches, Bluetooth speakers, wireless headphones, and smart backpacks that charge your electronics on the go are also a part of the “Smart Tech” trend.  Additionally, we saw smart home products such as WiFi LED bulbs, smart plugs that allow you to control the lights in your home through your phone, and Alexa enabled wireless speakers garnered a ton of buzz at the show.  With smartphones being such a huge part of our lives it’s not surprising that promos have shifted into the digital space in order to communicate with people where they are most receptive.

smart tech

Trend #2: Retail-Inspired Collections

We’ve known for a while that retail trends were permeating the promotional products industry, and it makes sense. You want to give a gift with a high-perceived value and giving away retail-inspired products is the way to do it.  This year, more than ever before, retail trends could be seen everywhere I turned.  I saw bags and apparel pieces that looked like they had lept strait off the pages of a Nordstrom catalog, and drinkware pieces that could compete with brands like Swell and YETI in both style and functionality.

So while retail influencing our industry isn’t exactly new, what was new was how many suppliers had shifted to offering collections and cohesive product lines rather than stand-alone products. This is straight out of retail’s playbook and I think this is something you as a marketer should be really excited about!

So, what does this mean for your brand?  Now you have the ability to have giveaways that complement each other and are cohesive with your brand. Take, for example, a new hire kit. You can pull from retail looking collections to give a kit that will completely wow a newcomer to your company and help with employee retention.  Or perhaps at a booth you want to give a couple of options as giveaways, but want all of the products you are giving out to look cohesive.  This is where sourcing various products from a collection comes into play.

These collections are infusing what I like to call “retail details” into their lines and are pulling from the hot retail trends you can find on store shelves.  I saw an ombre collection that included a hat, umbrella, and totes and more. And I also saw collections where vendors are playing with traditionally retail materials like velvet, vegan leather, cork, and denim.  We say the more the merrier and we are loving the cohesive and sleek collections we saw at the show this year.

Trend #3: Upgrades to Classics

A lot can change in a year, but at the same time there are some products that just have staying power.  Apparel will always reign supreme, and drinkware and bags aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  I know that you and your customers are hungry for what’s new, but you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.  A prevailing trend I saw this year while walking the floor and visiting with vendors is that sometimes a makeover or putting a creative spin on an already popular product can be just as effective as giving away something brand new.

For example, metallics, heathered fabrics, and ombre are huge retail trends in 2018 (think about those retail details I spoke on earlier).  With the addition of these materials, you can upgrade existing products to stay current rather than trying to find something new.

Along with giving classics a modern makeover, I saw a lot of products that were familiar but were elevated with a creative spin.  For example, pun intended, the fidget spinner!  This product was ALL the rage in 2017, but rather than just throwing it out in 2018, I saw a ton of vendors offer some alternatives to the fidget fad.  Take for example the “Cara-spinner” that combines a carabiner with a fidget spinner.  I also saw the fidget cube go digital with the “Magic Tile“, which uses a VR app integration that scans the images on the cube and brings them to life on your mobile device.

In drinkware, ceramic matte mugs were popular last year, so this year you add a wooden coaster that doubles as a lid and presto!  You get a trendy and popular drinkware product that is buzzworthy for your brand. There will always be staples like bags and drinkware, the key is to keep things fresh with upgrades, retail makeovers, and creative spins.

promo products


So there you have it!  You asked what’s trending and we hope our answer has inspired you to explore new products and spread the Brand Love. Expect Smart Tech products, retail-inspired collections, and upgraded classics to trend big time in 2018, and stay tuned next week as we continue to dive into 2018 trends to keep your brand current in the New Year.

Check out some of our faves from the Expo here!