Built to Last?

Buyers are unhappy that promotional products don’t always match their claims. In the first of a series of tests, the BPMA looked at how ceramic mug brands stand the test of time.

In 2015, the BPMA conducted a survey of marketers at the Marketing Week Live Exhibition and one of the most alarming findings was that 72% of those surveyed stated that they had been unhappy with the quality of promotional goods they had received.

The larger purchasers of promotional products were even unhappier with 82% of respondents voicing dissatisfaction. In the same survey “knowing a company only sells compliant goods” was rated as 8 out of 10 in terms of importance when purchasing promotional business gifts.

In 2013, the BPMA surveyed 1,000 people, asking a series of questions to capture how they viewed the promotional product sector and to better understand how our sector might offer value when compared to other advertising mediums including TV advertising and direct mail.

We asked how long people tend to keep the promotional products they received in order to emphasise the lifetime value of the items, eff ective cost per impression and also to establish the expected lifetime of the various branded items.

It’s clear that promotional merchandise is one of the most cost effective advertising methods, but that the reputation of our sector is at risk if we are unable to better manage the expectations of marketers, brand owners and the consumers who ultimately use the products we produce on a day to day basis.

One of the ongoing challenges faced by our industry is the management of product compliance and the performance of items sourced in the Far East and how this passes through the supply chain from manufacturer to end user.

In October 2016, the BPMA commissioned a series of independent tests to benchmark the validity of claims made by Far East manufacturers about the performance of their ceramic mug products and the suitability in each case for their items to be used with a dishwasher.

Ceramic Drinkware

The performance requirements for this product group are captured in the BSI Standards Publication, BS 8654:2015. Its present edition was first published in November 2015 replacing the previous performance specification, PAS 54:2003 for domestic ceramicware and glassware – articles intended for food contact with foodstuffs and vases.

The British Standard provides clear specifications to cover a comprehensive range of application requirements including metal release, the integrity of handle attachments and resistance to impact breakage in service. It also identifies a number of other ‘specific applications’ including microwave and dishwasher usage and qualifies the tests that must be satisfied in order for a product to be sold as suitable for use with these common modern day appliances.

Dishwasher Usage

BS 8654:2015 specifies that: “When tested in accordance with BS EN 12875-4, articles having a description that suggests they can be safely cleaned in a dishwasher shall, on average, show classification 0 or classification 1 change, but shall not show classification 2 change, compared with untreated tableware.”

Testing for dishwasher resistance

BS EN 12875-4:2006 is a European Standard specifying the rapid test commonly used to establish the dishwasher resistance of domestic ceramic articles. Test specimens are placed in a static solution containing a specifi ed alkaline dishwasher detergent at a temperature of 75°C (±1°C) for a total of 32 hours. The specimens are removed from the tank holding the solution after 16 and 32 hours, rinsed in hot water and rubbed dry with a clean cloth. Once dried the tested specimens are examined and compared to a retained control sample and any changes in gloss or colour reported. 

The inspection of the tested samples is graded into three categories:

No visible change 0 (Pass)
First discernable change 1 (Pass)
Clearly visible change 2 (Fail)

Each 16-hour interval is considered to be equivalent to approximately 250 cycles in a domestic dishwasher. The specimens are deemed to be suitable for use in a dishwasher only if after the full 32 hours
(500 cycles) they are classified as either 0 or 1.

Dye Sublimation PhotoMugs

It’s estimated that more than five million PhotoMugs are decorated and sold as business gifts, souvenirs or photo gifts every year in the UK alone; growing in popularity due to their photographic print quality, vivid colours and low minimum order quantities. Where once most of these products were sold as hand wash only most wholesalers and decorators now market the items as being suitable for use in the dishwasher.

The dye-based inks utilised to create the prints cannot be applied to the standard glaze surface of a mug and so organic ink receptor coats are applied to the mug bodies by a small number of large producers located in the Far East. The unprinted products they produce are distributed around the world via a network of wholesalers/importers who in turn sell the blanks to local decorators who print the products; or in the case of larger decorator companies they are imported directly from source.

Most of the Far East coating companies claim that their mugs are dishwasher proof; claims which are in turn typically mirrored by the decorators who supply promotional product distributors within the EU and the rest of the world. Some of the better-known source brands include Orca, Rhino Coat, JS and Duraglaze. Decorators will either market the products under the original brands, create their own trade name for the mugs or just sell without any reference to the original coated product they’ve sourced.

The BPMA obtained sample mugs from the fi ve principal sources of coated PhotoMug blanks for dye sublimation in the world. All samples were printed using the same method, with the same image and using the same inks.

The printed mugs were submitted to the specialist independent test laboratory Lucideon in Stoke-on-Trent and assessed for their suitability for use with a domestic dishwasher.

Test Findings

The most common defects appearing on the failing mug samples were:

  1. Clearly visible fading and deterioration of the printed image. The mug on the right-hand side of picture 1 had been in the immersion tank for 32 hours, the mug on the left is the control sample.
  2. Failure of adhesion between the organic coating and the ceramic mug body resulting in chips of paint flaking off the rim and body of the mug samples. The mug on the right-hand side of picture 2 had been in the immersion tank for 16 hours, the mug on the left is the control sample.

To try to differentiate the durability of the four products that failed to pass the minimum requirement under BS EN 12875-4:2006 of 32 hours of immersion, a set of samples was inspected after only eight hours which Lucideon estimate is probably equivalent to between 100 and 125 cycles in a domestic dishwasher. Even after this short period of time, all four samples were showing clearly visible changes when compared to the control samples with Rhino Coat and JS Coating exhibiting the most signifi cant deterioration.  

Lifetime Value

Our 2013 consumer research suggested that people who were given a promotional mug as a business gift kept it on average for almost three years. If you assume that a coffee cup get gets washed once a day, seven days a week, then the failing coating brands in these tests are likely to show noticeable signs of deterioration within only four to six months of use – much lower than the average time the consumer would otherwise retain the product for.


While all the mugs were sold by the Far East factories as being ‘Dishwasher Proof’, only one successfully passed the 32-hour immersion test specifi ed by the European test standard for dishwasher resistance required to support any marketing claims of dishwasher compatibility.

There’s no legal obligation on importers, decorators or distributors to supply mugs that are dishwasher proof, but where such claims are made they do need to be substantiated using the BS EN 12875-4:2006 test procedure and obtaining a positive test result. In these tests the dishwasher claims made by the Far East manufacturers in all but one case were not positively substantiated in the Lucideon laboratory. 

The BPMA consumer research study (2013) suggests that people will retain promotional mugs for up to five years, and 2.9 years on average. This would suggest that dishwasher resistance is important if the brand owners are to get the very best return on their promotional merchandise spend.

Where products are being sold as being suitable for use in a dishwasher we’d recommend the following due diligence steps should be taken:

  • Importers and decorators should conduct their own testing through an independent laboratory to check that the products they plan to sell as being dishwasher proof pass the BS EN 12875-4:2006 test procedure. If sources of supply change the tests should be repeated.
  • Distributor companies should request sight of the positive test reports from their chosen supplier if they intend to sell the products as being suitable for use in a dishwasher.

For some promotions, budget may be more important to the brand owner than the product’s suitability for use in a dishwasher. If supplying such a product we’d recommend that the purchaser has been made fully aware of the fact that the mugs should be washed by hand.

To view the full report, click here to go to the PDF download. BPMA members only


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