I hate poorly designed promotional materials: any material that ends up in the junk (mainly because even new, a thrift store couldn't sell it) is poorly designed.
Imagine giving a MUG away that is supposed to advertise your business. A person that uses a mug normally wants one that is well designed for drinking (that's usually done right) and looks great on their desk. Most people want to see an interesting (somewhat artsy) design. They don't normally want to look at company names (or even logos). (P.S. All statements of opinion usually should be qualified: I think a thrift store would have no trouble selling a mug with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle but I saw one for a funeral home!)
So, if you want to advertise your company, you should be doing it on the BACK of the mug (something small but tasteful that the person the drinker is sitting with can see). The user of the mug can have their artsy design--you get your advertising--and the mug doesn't end up in the landfill. (See P.S.)
T-shirts and totes also are a problem. I HATE years that are conspicuously posted because people rarely like to buy second-hand T-shirts with a year posted on them. It's possible to work the year into a design inconspicuously (somewhat like a copyright notice) but it needs to be a conscious choice in the design.
Companies that want people to use the promotional materials they give away (or who want them to stay in the mainstream of use if they are 'regifted' to charities) should think about HOW their promotional materials would look at a wedding or an upscale sporting event. I'm sure that if they designed based on this high standard, more of everything would stay in circulation.
Now, I don't want to mess up someone's business but I pick up a lot of batteries when I walk and sometimes pick up those little keychain flashlights with batteries (that were given as promotional materials) that no longer work. I'm sure that you would properly dispose of them but many people don't.
From my perspective, companies should refrain from giving promotional materials that, if they are disposed of improperly, create some environmental risk. Or, if they still want to give these products away, they should do a better job of educating the recipients as to their proper handling (both now and in the future).
I'm sure that if the people who designed promotional materials spent a bit more time learning more about what people who handle second hand items are able to extract value from, we would end up with a nation with a greater base of wealth.
Now, after reading this, you'll probably think that I've spent way too much time going to thrift stores and rummage sales. It just so happened that a thrift store was directly in line with my walk to the library for several years (they've since moved).
Also, at one point in time, I did some research on what different organizations take in, which thrift stores are most easily able to sell different kinds of donations (what one thrift store might HAVE to throw out because it does not have the customer base or space, another might easily sell because it does), etc.
You can learn A LOT if you just look and listen.
And I'm sure that businesses really want to know this because it's to their advantage if they can get the greatest 'bang for their buck' with their advertising. Anything 'durable' that ends up quickly in a landfill (or a closet) creates no 'durable' value for that business (or their community).
A good design example … (OPEN) … from my perspective.
P.S. I've never seen a logo used multiple times as edging on a mug--like this: ####### or #-#-#: Someone's logo would make great edging--I'm sure of it!.
P.S.P.S. Many corporations / businesses / organizations do not think seriously enough about how their 'online' web design can affect their business. I'm sure that if corporate executives were given some 'simple tasks' that customers were asked to do and then given the 'range' of computers they'd expect their customers to be working on (think in percentages of the world working on the oldest versus old versus newer versus newest machines) along with the varying speeds their customers might expect depending upon their service provider, they would think more about how the complexity of the sites affects usage. Many corporations should have 'corporate lite' sites for customer service tasks like billing, product promotions (you do want to sell products) and informational items (like user manuals). I'm sure of this.
Companies should hire me to select and/or design their promotional materials (or use these tips to make sure greater wealth is retained).