Environment: Printed Pens vs Digital Advertising CO2 Comparison
Corporate gifts are often considered `old school` as a form of marketing when compared to the flashier, more data-driven digital channels. In this short article we are taking a look at CO2 emissions, to see how digital advertising and promotional merchandise stack up. If you are interested in comparing ROI, you might like to read this article on umbrellas
Printed pens vs any search based advertising
We chose to compare low cost, disposable printed pens because this is one of the most popular promotional gifts on the market. They are also relatively simple to estimate carbon footprint for because several pen manufacturers have done it already. Also, at BrandHK, we make a lot of printed pens, so we understand all the extra costs like shipping, storage, printing and packaging.
And in the other corner we have search-based advertising. By this we mean any online advertising where the user is either making a search through a search engine or is served advertising on another website they use. There is a lot of data on this so we think the results here are pretty reliable.
This article contains links to examples of the sources we have used, although we have used a lot more to arrive at our figures.
Brand views for printed pens and search advertising
What we are comparing is impressions: the number of time your brand is shown to the end user. For promotional pens, the average number of impressions over the lifetime of the product is around 3,000 (spread out over 6-9 months). One user will see your brand 3,000 times if you give them one printed pen (source: ASI Global Ad Impressions Study 2019
The equivalent number of impressions from search-based advertising would again be 3,000 individual displays of your brand through organic, paid-for search advertising (such as Adwords) or display ads that pop up when you are browsing a site with advertising. It does not matter how the user gets to see your brand, as long as they rely on big servers to select and display the ads.
We have not included internal company emissions for your company, such as air conditioning the office where your Marketing Manager sits. These will be about the same probably for both (unless your Marketing Manager spends too much time staring at data analytics).
CO2 emissions for printed pens and digital
We have used a number of sources to estimate the CO2 emissions of printed pens, and the most work has been done by BIC who have published independent data. There are also a number of negative studies on BIC`s manufacturing that we have used, such as this article
where we have taken a baseline CO2 output per pen of 21.55g. Not all pens will be the same and some will involve more processes than others so, to allow for a range of printed pen models, we are roughly doubling the emissions per pen to 40g per pen. According to most studies, transport costs after manufacturing are a significant proportion of lifetime CO2 so we have again doubled the estimated emissions to 80g. This is the approximate total CO2 cost of a typical printed pen that delivers 3,000 impressions over its lifecycle, giving a CO2 per impression of 0.027g.
Emissions from searches come from a variety of sources: the cost of powering the device conducting the search, the cost of the servers carrying the data, and the cost of running (power, heating, cooling, etc.) the data centres that do the computations. All the search-based options we have described operate in the same way: a query is sent over servers to a data centre that computes which results/ads to show, and then sends back the ads with some ongoing tracking enabled. The sources we have found in our research suggest a higher end of 7g per search (source: The Guardian
), but we have seen as low as 1g per search. Google estimates 0.2g to 0.4g per search, so we can take this minimum as 0.3g per search, but this excludes the full delivery pipeline. The most compelling evidence suggests the real figure is around 3g per search.
A typical printed pen will deliver 1 impression whilst causing 0.027g of CO2 emissions. A typical search impression will cause 3g per search. So digital advertising is at least 100x more damaging for the climate than a promotional pen, and
To achieve match the 3,000 impressions delivered by one promotional pen, your digital advertising will emit 9kg of CO2. To deliver the same brand awareness as a minimum order of 500 pens (40kg of CO2), your digital advertising will add 4.5 metric tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.
How can promotional gifts get better for the environment?
At BrandHK we are constantly looking at new ways to reduce impact and new innovations in corporate gifts. For example, using less fossil-fuel-based materials such as replacing plastic with natural materials (check out this article
) means that we push less plastic back into the system. We also have a range of recycled and recyclable products and are looking at making it easier for customers to see which products are made from these materials.
We also look at the way we run our company, by managing stock better to cut transportation emissions. For example, our Promoshop service
allows customers to bulk order products to our warehouse and then arrange local deliveries on demand. This hub and spoke transportation model cuts costs because we ship goods for all orders to a hub in China and then transport all orders together to our local hub, meaning fewer journeys. The local deliveries are then sent out daily on the same vehicle, making multiple drops to different customers and again using fewer journeys than each customer doing individual deliveries from their own office.