Even the lowly USB flash drive presents opportunities for creative branding. After collecting a few dozen of these PR devices over the past couple of years I laid them side by side to see if there were any patterns of interest. Here’s what I saw.
The first discernible pattern was based on a functional distinction. Roughly half of the drives were of the cap variety, the other half being swivel flash drives. There are pros and cons for each. The main problem with cap drives is the cap, which tends to get easily lost. Swivel drives have no such problem, with the swivel cap being permanently attached to the drive. The advantage of cap drives, however, is that there is more space on the body of the drive for printing or engraving brand logos, names, and slogans. With swivel drives the printing generally goes on the swivel itself (great if you have a distinct corporate logo or short brand name).
The second pattern I noticed was the range of materials used for the body of cap drives: plastic, wood, metal, and, leather being the most common. Each material has symbolic connotations which can be exploited with greater or lesser ease for branding purposes. For example, Danier (a leather goods company) used black leather-bound flash drives in one of their recent marketing campaigns. Beauty goods company Veet chose an eye-catching flash drive in the shape of a bright red lipstick. Flash drives come in an astonishing array of materials, shapes and colours. They can also be custom made to order, such as the cookie-shaped flash drive from Oreo (cute but awkward to insert into a laptop USB port). In general, a wider range of materials are used in cap drives. Swivel drives tend to have plastic bodies and metal swivels. The single example of a wood swivel drive came from éclos. It looked nice but the swivel mechanism malfunctioned. Be careful of adopting innovations before they are tested!
Everything a company puts out should be considered a branding opportunity. Nothing is too trivial – not even the USB flash drives used for distributing press releases and documents. Though an object with utilitarian value, the USB flash drive is a microcosm of the kinds of choices, values, and attitudes that animate a brand.