An Itemized List of (Not Quite) Every Promotional Product Canada's Government Purchased Last Year
If you've never heard of iPolitics, we can't blame you. The site bills itself as the "smartest, liveliest opinion and commentary in Canada," and covers politics and policy in the Great White North. Usually, that keeps it off our radar—we cover the mostly U.S.-based promotional products industry, after all—but we recently had occasion to visit the site.
See, iPolitics just ran an article outlining the Canadian government's promotional product spending in 2017. Ostensibly a look at government "waste," as so many of these stories are (more on that later), the report is sourced from a document originally obtained by Arnold Viersen, a Canadian politician who requested information on state promo purchasing.
As it turns out, that document was a treasure trove of data, listing not just specific items, but quantities and even dollar figures, in some cases. And while the list is by no means complete, it does provide a window into the wild, forbidden world of promotional products use in Canadian government. We thought it'd be fun to dive into the list (sorted by product category) and add our own commentary where appropriate. Enjoy!
• 1,000 elephant stress relievers ($3,507) for Public Service Commission
• $2,503 in stress cows and stress chickens for Canadian Food Inspection Agency
• $6,335 in "anti-stress boats" for Marine Atlantic Inc.
We like the cohesive branding the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Marine Atlantic Inc. both having going on here, what with their respective areas of expertise represented in stress reducer form. Not sure what the Public Service Commission, which deals in staffing for public service positions, was going for with the elephants, but if it wasn't a play on "an elephant never forgets," then it was a wasted opportunity. Just saying.
Toys and Games
• 5.8 million temporary tattoos and 150,000 glow sticks for the Canada 150 celebration
• 1,500 rubber ducks ($5,375) for Communications Security Establishment recruiting events
• $10,847 in "nuclear watchdog fidget toy dogs" for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
• 2,000 Rubix cubes ($8,424.15) for Bank of Canada
Canada 150 was a big deal, as evidenced by the 5.8 million temporary tattoos. (That's roughly one tat for every six Canadians, by the way.) In a characteristically polite Canadian move, the country's government made the Canada 150 logo free to use for businesses that wanted to get in on the branded merchandise action, approving more than 6,200 applications. That's pretty cool.
Food and Drink
• 408 cowboy boot mint tins ($1,244) and $2,486 in hot chocolate cubes for Business Development Bank of Canada
• $1,068 in chocolate bars for Health Canada
We didn't know what hot chocolate cubes were prior to writing this article, but after googling we can safely say what the heck, Canada? You've been holding out on us this whole time?! Seriously, look at these things. Health Canada gave the chocolate bars to nurses for National Nursing Week, which seems rad.
• 1,000 stylus pens ($1,390) for Business Development Bank of Canada
• $200,000 in branded and specialty pens (general government use)
The report evidently didn't specify how or where the $200,000 in pens was used, but assuming these were mid-range in price (let's say $1.50 per unit), that total would get you about 130,000 pens. That may seem like a lot, but given that at least some of these were "specialty" pens, which are more expensive, it's likely a much lower number. Let's call it 100,000. Now divide that up among all Canadian government entities, and factor in both pens designated for promotional use and those intended for internal office use, and it seems reasonable. This is an entire country's worth of government we're talking here!
• $27,037 in USB keys for Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
• $4,237 in selfie sticks for Marine Atlantic Inc.
Let's hope those USB keys weren't preloaded with nuclear launch codes, ha ha! That would be ironic.
• 20,000 luggage tags for Canada 150
More Canada 150 merchandise. We're not sure if these are the ones the Canadian government used, but they look pretty sharp.
Gifts and Incentives
• 665 gas station gift cards ($31,920) for Marine Atlantic Inc.
• $390 in fast food and iTunes gift cards for Health Canada
Evidently, Health Canada spent some portion of that $390 on McDonald's gift cards. That seems a little at odds with Health Canada's mission statement, you know?
• $1,476 in coaster sets for Library and Archives
• Unspecified number of black luxury leather coasters for Privy Council Office
According to its website, the Privy Council Office is the "hub of non-partisan, public service support to the Prime Minister and Cabinet and its decision-making structures." That's ... pretty vague. But apparently their offices are swanky if they're outfitting them with luxury leather coasters. We approve.
• 2.6 million flags for Canada 150
• 130 folding lawn chairs ($2,879) for Farm Credit Canada
• $4,433 in "Zoomer memberships" for Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation
• One (1) $1,788 "glass iceberg mountain" for Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions events
We're not sure what a "Zoomer membership" is, and we're not sure we want to know. We do, however, want to know what a $1,788 glass iceberg mountain is.
• 144 bottles of maple syrup for Destination Canada
• 50 bottles of maple syrup ($1,750) for Royal Canadian Mint
• $1,250 in maple syrup/candy samplers for Bank of Canada
• $3,050 in "maple products" for Public Sector Pension Investment Board
We could have included this in the food and drink section, but given the sheer number and diversity of maple syrup promos here, we thought it merited its own section. The report also lists "thousands of dollars worth of maple syrup" for "Ottawa," which is as amusing as it is unsurprising. Way to reinforce stereotypes, Ottawa!
There is a conspicuous lack of apparel here. That, more than anything else, implies that the list is less than comprehensive (apparel is far and away the largest promotional products category by sales volume). And indeed, iPolitics notes at the bottom of its story that many Canadian government departments keep incomplete records of promo buying practices, or simply did not report the information upon Viersen's request.
Canada's government is made up of 26 different departments, many of which are not represented here. It's possible that those branches simply did not purchase any promotional products, so it's difficult to estimate the full scope of Canada's buying habits. Also, the report counts only promotional products purchased by Canada's federal government—not individual governments, like Vancouver or Toronto, that have expressed interest in major promotional product initiatives or are already employing such programs.
Altogether, iPolitics put the Canadian government's total promotional product spending in the millions, though the site did not provide an exact figure. This seems roughly in line with U.S. government promotional product spending, at least according to this 2012 study from Cause of Action, a nonprofit government accountability watchdog. The nine federal agencies profiled in that report spent $1,123,118 on promotional products, but, as in the Canadian report, data from several agencies is missing, making a complete tally difficult to achieve.
In any case, both reports show that federal governments understand the need for and value of promotional products in accomplishing their marketing and policy goals. The important thing for the general public to remember when reading such reports (and the important thing for the promotional products industry to convey in its public relations) is that these dollar figures are minuscule in relation to federal budgets. Canada spent $330.2 billion in 2017. Even if, say, $10 million of that was promotional products, that represents just 0.003 percent of its total spending.
Now, who wants to hook us up with some maple syrup?