Vancouver Sun

Branded masks, sanitizer the new corporate swag


NEW YORK Nasdaq ordered 1,800 masks with its logo and the phrase “NasdaqStro­ng” for when employees return to the office. A team at the software firm Atlassian ordered gift packages for workers that included a mask with a product logo alongside a chocolate bar, a pen and other goodies. The insurance tech startup Lemonade ordered masks branded with its new ticker symbol for executives to wear when they ring the bell for their IPO, according to a supplier.

As some businesses reopen and others try to stay in touch with employees working from home, companies are opting for coronaviru­s-related corporate swag — branded sanitizer bottles, “clean key” tools for pressing elevator buttons and, above all, masks — joining the tote bags, travel mugs and USB flash drives that have long defined company giveaways.

“It feels like 70 per cent of our orders has a mask in it,” said Michael Martocci, founder and chief executive of SwagUp, despite not prominentl­y promoting masks on his site. “Everybody wants it.” (Lemonade, citing “quiet period” rules preceding an IPO, declined to comment.)

Some companies are selling face coverings with brands, distinctiv­e colours or catchphras­es directly to consumers, and some offer them to front-line employees in service jobs. A startup called Meekara, which offers a line of tailored masks that can be adorned with a corporate logo, said it is in discussion­s with a major airline to produce branded masks for its premium-class passengers and ground crew.

“The mask could become the new fleece vest,” said Susan Scafidi, academic director of Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute, referring to the popular Silicon Valley fashion staple.

Masks have become politicize­d with U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to wear one in public or urge their use.

However, public polling shows wide support for wearing masks: A Pew Research survey of Americans from mid-June found that more than 70 per cent believe people should wear face coverings most or all of the time in public places, and a recent Fox News poll found that 80 per cent hold a favourable view of mask-wearers.

Yet for businesses, offering branded sanitizer or wearable swag related to a pandemic carries more sensitivit­ies than a logo-emblazoned golf shirt or baseball cap.

Scafidi warned that companies could be seen as “exploiting the pandemic by using the space on the face as additional corporate branding.”

Some employers may be wary of commercial­izing a health crisis by adding logos to masks. “It is frankly a weird product to sell — masks. You go to swag for fun,” while masks are for safety, said Jeremy Parker, co-founder of Swag. com, which is donating 10 masks for every 100 it sells.

Parker said only about 10 per cent of their mask orders include a corporate logo, while an additional 30 per cent are ordered with a phrase or saying of some kind.

But others say they’ve seen a noticeable increase in demand for masks with sports team insignia, Disney characters, apparel brands and political campaign logos.

A month ago, said Leo Friedman, chief executive of the promotiona­l products site iPromo, “it was all about the medical masks; today almost 75 per cent of our orders are for branded,” he said, noting that most are being ordered with a smaller logo on the side of the mask, in muted or single colours rather than being splashed across the front.

“You don’t want to be a walking billboard on the face.”

Companies in the promotiona­l-products industry have had to pivot quickly after sales for trade show tchotchkes collapsed and swag for employee training offsites and new-hire welcome kits slowed.

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