«Il va être difficile à détrôner» : le tote bag, un accessoire de communication devenu incontournable

«Il va être difficile à détrôner» : le tote bag, un accessoire de communication devenu incontournable

Before being the number one promotional item for businesses and organizations, it dragged its handles over the shoulders of English newspaper boys. Popularized by Jane Birkin, it is now displayed everywhere from the supermarket to the beach.

It has become an essential accessory, to the point that it is sometimes found in piles of ten in our closets. Most often carried over the shoulder, the tote bag, this canvas bag with handles, is increasingly replacing handbags, plastic bags, and other backpacks. In summer like now, it is carried as a beach bag. But it can quickly become a shopping bag or a computer bag.

If it is now everywhere, it is to companies and organizations of all kinds that we owe it, who smelled the potential of this object as a communication tool. “They went into marketing operations. Brands now distribute tons of tote bagsobserves Florian Escoubes, research professor at the University of Toulouse 1 Capitole and author of studies on promotional items.

Originally, however, the tote bag had no marketing ambitions, but merely functional utility:”tote“sense”tote” Where “drag around” in English. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, it was especially used initially in the United Kingdom by postal workers. Then, in the 1940s, by newspaper delivery men, both in Europe and in the United States. During the same decade On the other side of the Atlantic, the LL Bean department store had the idea of ​​distributing tote bags to its customers, initially to transport blocks of ice. But “the tote bag was actually powered by Jane Birkin, says Philippe Claveau, professor of marketing at Grenoble Ecole de Management. In the 70’s, an actress, model, who walks with a tote bag, creates a trend.»

Ten times more demand in ten years

If brands started to take it over from the 70s and 80s, it is only recently that it has become a popular communication tool. “I’d say it’s been going on for a good decade or so.“says Géraldine Michel, professor at IAE Paris Sorbonne, where she is director of the Brands and Values ​​Chair. An observation confirmed by professionals in the promotional items sector. “In the last ten years, the requests received for the creation of tote bags have multiplied by ten. Nothing is done without a handbag“, informs Antony Villeger, president of the 2FPCO (French Federation of Communication Professionals by Object).

“Companies know very well that it will allow the brand to circulate in people’s lives, to be alive in the streets and for people to take ownership of it. »

Géraldine Michel, professor at IAE Paris Sorbonne and director of the Brands and Values ​​Chair

Before the tote bag, other advertising items, intended for brand customers but also often for internal communication, for example during back-to-school events or seminars, had their hour of glory. “Pumpkins have worked tremendously. Corporate clothing also remains a classic, as are pens and calendars, always bestsellers. At one point, we had chocolates and crockery, which are holding up well. With Covid, we also had the mask period“, points out the doctor of management sciences Florian Escoubes. Among the (long) list ofgiftsmarketing professor Philippe Claveau also cites pell-mell, key rings, diaries, caps, USB keys, external batteries, mugs or even backpacks that companies offer their employees.

For Antony Villeger, president of 2FPCO, “We could attribute the birth of the tote bag movement in France to the moment when E.Leclerc stopped giving plastic bags to its customers, in 1996, for reusable plastic bags.“. Even if the distributor was not yet supplying handbags, the ground was ready, helped also by the growing importance of environmental protection issues. “At the same time, a “do it yourself” trend was arriving from the United States. People began to make their own bags, with political messages, affirmationAntony Villeger continues. Companies have seen the magnitude of the phenomenon. They said to themselves: “Here, with the tote bag, we can communicate in another way”.»

“Not seen as an advertisement”

Because, whether it’s for a cause, an organization or a brand close to their hearts, “people like to speak up, take a stand, say loud and clear what they believe», points out Géraldine Michel, who points out «a need for identification and belonging“. Everything that the tote bag allows, that you take with you everywhere, and that largely explains its success, according to Antony Villeger.

But not only. Its green aspect has contributed to this -a belief that has been highly questioned in recent years-, as well as a change in the relationship between the population and advertising. “In general, the French find that there is too much advertising pressure, observes Florian Escoubes. But on the other hand, they still say they want companies to communicate, but more through traditional channels.“The tote bag responds to these aspirations”,in the sense that it’s not intrusive, it’s not repetitive, we choose to use it or not, and it doesn’t look like an ad», analyzes the expert in the ecosystem of advertising objects.

And on the brand side, what more could you ask for than the customers who willingly advertise the brand themselves? “Companies know very well that it will allow the brand to circulate in people’s lives, to be alive in the streets and for people to appropriate it.“, explains Géraldine Michel. That’s why they’re usually free, because “gives much more visibility“, completes the author of the book at the heart of the brand (Dunod, 2022).

Therefore, the tote bag seems to be the ultimate communication tool for brands. “It will be difficult to dethrone“says Philippe Claveau, from the Grenoble School of Management. Widely acclaimed, it is from this undisputed success that your loss could come. “The risk is that of saturation“, points out Florian Escoubes. already today,we have tote bags at home for tote bags“, concedes Antony Villeger. Promotional products professionals are aware of this and are increasingly trying to make brands qualitative rather than quantitative. Because, as the head of the 2FPCO points out, “we do not want the tote bag to become the new plastic bag“.

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