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Vintage Promotional Items

Do you remember when companies had promotional items? Gas stations, radio stations, seed corn companies are just some of those who were known for this. Some were free; others were sold inexpensively; a few things were even used as an incentive to buy a particular product. For instance, buying a John Deere tractor around 1980, resulted in sweatshirts for the whole family and sweat pants for me.

But it wasn’t just gas, radio, and agriculture. Remember the items found in cereal boxes? How about those Christmas albums offered each year by the likes of Goodyear, Firestone, and Zenith, among others?

As a youth, I don’t believe that we ever had to pay for hats or ink pens, thanks to local vendors for the likes of Allis-Chalmers, John Deere, Amoco, Migro, Motorola, and Pioneer, among others. They knew that almost all farmers (and usually their kids, too) wore hats, everywhere, so what better way of advertising? Same with ink pens; everyone carried ink pens, and what a good idea to carry one with your name and/or logo?

Agriculture companies were big into the promotional game. There was a time when almost every implement company, fertilizer company, and seed company handed out free hats. A true story; one year at the Farm Progress Show (a large farm show that rotated between Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa), I left with 20 hats! All free! By the way, that doesn’t happen, anymore. And going beyond the free giveaways, there were also items for purchase, coats, shirts, toys, etc. Those of us who grew up on farms, very likely had an extensive collection of toy farm equipment, made to look like their full-size cousins, complete with the logos of John Deere, Allis-Chalmers, International, Case, Oliver, or whatever your favorite line was.

I would dare say that one of the reasons John Deere is the dominant agricultural company, today, is promotional marketing (along with quality product). The John Deere logo has shown up on practically everything from bicycles, to model trains, to all types of clothing; dishes, mugs, dolls, and more. It’s almost impossible to go into a department store, higher end ones included, and not see something with the John Deere logo on it. Their promotional and marketing people are genius.

Gas stations were also big into promotion, as well. I remember ARCO, especially, advertising several kids-related items. Have some toy trucks or cars with the logo on it, and hopefully develop that future customer base. Pretty much all of the companies did some level of promotional merchandising. Seems, though, as some were more into it than others. I seem to recall that Gulf and Texaco were especially into it, but I remember Shell, Amoco, and others, as well, offering some goodies. Search collectibles, sometime, and be amazed at what was offered. My parents still have a plastic Gulf truck that we played with at my grandparents some thirty-five years ago.

Another promotion that I think was great; remember the styrofoam antenna balls? 76 stations gave them out, as did some radio stations. For a time, throughout central Indiana, it wasn’t unusual to pass a car or truck with that orange ball with the blue 76, or a yellow one that promoted a local Indianapolis radio station, WFBQ.

Oh yes, the radio stations! Remember when almost all of them gave out bumper stickers, often times tied to some type of contest? How about tee shirts? Sometimes given away, and sometimes sold. Many stations, particularly top 40 formats, would have weekly sheets of their top 20 or 40. There would be the list of songs, maybe 2 or 3 “hot” albums listed, pictures of the D. J.’s, and maybe a few advertisers. Then, they would have them in different businesses throughout their town, for anyone to pick up. Today, they can be somewhat collectible, especially those from defunct stations.

Free or low-cost promotional items weren’t just limited to gas, agriculture, and broadcasting, though. Remember when cereal had free things in them? Or you could send off a dollar or two (usually for shipping), along with one or two box tops for some out-of-this-world item. I did that, once, but with A & W Root Beer. I saved something from the cases, then when I had collected enough, sent them off, and in a few weeks, a package arrived with a brand-new Lionel box car, lettered for A & W Root Beer. Those of us who spent our youth in the seventies, will also remember when they would put records on the back of the cereal boxes. You’d cut them off and place them on the turntable. I don’t recall them being really high quality, though. Cereal companies were big, but not the only ones. Just off the top of my head, I remember the football cards in Wonder Bread, with the player on the front, and Hank Stram’s favorite plays on the back. Along that same line, was Hostess putting baseball cards on the bottoms of Ding Dong and Twinkie’s boxes.

Today, some of these items have become quite collectible. Many can be found on sites such as Ebay, as well as antique shops and flea markets. If you are looking for a hobby, it might be a fun one to try. If not, just enjoy the remembrances.

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