It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Technology has gone from almost nothing to a dominant sector in merchandise in just two decades. Matt Pluckrose looks back at the fascinating changes.

The demand for technology, gadgets and electronics has changed dramatically over the last 20 years but there are some elements that surprisingly stay constant. This month let’s look back at a few landmark product groups and how trends have changed in that time. Some businesses started to take commercial advantage of the internet from the late 90s.

The commercial website was born and early adopters needed to promote their new marketing baby. Our industry found the perfect way to promote this new technology in the form of computer mouse mats with corporate images or URLs printed to them. There were loads of different formats – ultra-thin, hardtop, rubber, fabric, eco (without PVC, and still popular now) and even liquid or gel-filled which proved to be the star items of 1999-2003.

Desk stars

Small gadgets for use around the laptop, computer and desk became very popular, such as brushes and ergo wrist supports. Some, like the Telephone Untangler, are still promoting a message today some 22 years on.

The next five years saw some dramatic changes with the introduction of Bluetooth technology into earsets and then later headphones and speakers. In 2001, the first Apple iPod was launched, and by about 2005 the technology for storing vast data files on tiny gadgets led to some of the largest game changers in promo technology – computer flash drives or memory sticks, as well as MP3 and MP4 players.

Falling prices

These products were to become some of the largest selling items of any product category in our industry for the next 15 years. However, when launched they were very different to today. The first drives could hold around 16MB of data, compared with today’s many GBs. The entry-level costs at launch were an eye-watering £33 plus for 16MB.

Today, a drive with 15 times the size costs less than a tenth of that 2005 figure. Other major products of this era included the retractable modem cable/ DSL Cat 5 cords, which were needed at the time to connect PCs and laptops to a local network and allow internet access.

Again, it’s so different today with ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage and 5G allowing consumers to instantly download, upload and stay connected virtually wherever they are in the country.

Today, we all take for granted calling over Skype, WhatsApp, or Wee-Chat to stay in touch with friends, family or business colleagues. In 2005 we saw the very first VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phones which soon took off and over a short period of time merged into the app-based software incorporated into modern smartphones.

This year also saw the very first mobile phone chargers which at the time were either solar-powered, battery-powered (4 x AAAs) or crank handle operated. It’s funny that these would now be very popular with the focus on eco power.

Gadget explosion

By 2010 we had seen the launch of the first iPhone and ebook readers (both 2007). Amazon’s Kindle opened up a wave of new gadget trends such as generic ebook readers, digital photo frames, Wi-Fi hotspot detectors, mini projectors, portable hard disc drives, and minicams to record sporting highlights.

All of which were a long way from the super gadgets of today that transmit, record and display in up to 8K ultra definition. By 2015, smartphones had become part of our daily lives with more than 60% of the public owning and having access to one.

This is forecast to rise to 80% by 2022. This rapid rise led to accessories to support and enhance these new phones. Bluetooth speakers, earbuds, headphones and especially charge cables, and portable and rechargeable power banks came into their ascendency. They became the must-have promotional accessory and are still dominant today.

The growth of promotional technology has been a rapid one with sales globally in this category having risen of practically zero to now upwards to 10% of total spend on promotional items. This is a category that will continue to grow and needs careful consideration when discussing your client’s next brief.

Matt Pluckrose is managing director of Desktop Ideas

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