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MERCH! MERCH! MERCH! And...Unicorns

MERCH! MERCH! MERCH! And...Unicorns

Jan 31 2020

Another conference season had almost come to an end before the New Year marathon began. So now it's high time we told you about one wonderful and universal kind of gift - promotional merchandise.


Our PVS-Studio team is actively taking part in IT conferences with talks and booths. In addition to spreading the word about the abilities of our tool, we also like to present participants with various nice souvenirs. Throughout the year we've received a lot of positive feedback about our handouts, as well as requests to tell readers how we create all these things. So we decided to share with you our works, show the behind-the-scenes stuff, followed by some thoughts and tips on what cool merch is like.

We roughly divided our ideas into several groups. The first is focused on foreign guests, the other one - on leisure, and the third - on thoughtful (and also light) work in the office. The article is written by our company's two employees: designer Galina and marketing manager Katya.

So let's start.

Hello from Russia


Russian Dolls

Perhaps, this is the most unusual and specific item of our merch. Nevertheless, these wooden painted dolls have won the hearts of tourists all over the world. When people come to our country, they are happy to take such a souvenir with them. Our matryoshkas, of course, are very different from the classic ones, because they depict not a girl, but our unicorn :). This concept was conceived before me, but I sincerely like it: the illustrations combine everyday situations that are very close to a developer's heart and some Russian folk traditions. The outer matryoshka depicts a unicorn in a headscarf painted with patterns, elements of which are borrowed from the Geel painting and adapted to the idea. The intermediate one shows the process of active coding and the smallest depicts tender feelings between the unicorn and the Linux penguin. This is a small local meme in our company ever since we started PVS-Studio support of this OS.


It took us a while to try to come up with an idea how to automate the manufacturing process, but we couldn't find any solution. So each matryoshka is unique and hand made.

We buy wooden "dummies", cover with white first coat, so that the paint would clung to the wooden layer, mark down a rough sketch, paint with acrylic paints, finish the picture with contours, cover with varnish and let them dry. Creating one set of three dolls takes about 1-2 full working days.


Ushanka hats

The easiest gift option for us in terms of implementation. A classic white fur ushanka hat with a nice cockade. The option is simple, but far from useless: in our country in cold times a hat will come in handy. And most importantly, they trigger the most joyful and vivid emotions in foreign guests!


Nicolai Josuttis in our ushanka hat



You might think we were out of ideas at this point. Say what you like, but there is a bazillion of notebooks at any conference. But we didn't give ordinary notebooks, but custom engraved ones!

As it turned out, ordering notebooks right with individual engraving was quite expensive, so we just ordered a batch of simple ones and bought a laser for engraving. Fortunately, it was easy to manage and quite cheap.

Only foreign speakers got our notebooks. It's usually not very easy to contact them in everyday life. Once we compiled the list of speakers with whom we'd like to meet, we set to work. Our event manager Ilona was busy engraving, she'll tell you more about this process in her upcoming article.


Time to Drink Some Tea



The city where we live and work actively supports its traditions, and we'd like to share them as well. At some conferences you can get a really tasty sweet gift from us.

Tula gingerbreads is a special art form. There are countless varieties, tastes and illustrations of them. In our local museum, you can see how technologically difficult is the process of their creation.

In our case, when preparing an image for a gingerbread, there are some nuances that have to be put up with. Just imagine - I had to make an image that is to be cut in a special wooden form, which requires the absence of too thin lines, which are undoubtedly present in both patterns and letters. So I had to make them simpler and simpler... Even had to remake our logo, although the difference was small. Eventually, it wasn't enough and we had to agree to the greater weight and size of a gingerbread. You would probably agree that a gingerbread without patterns is no longer a gingerbread :) As their size changed, unfortunately, we couldn't take a large number of them on conferences - it's not that convenient to transport them.

Once the form is ready, the only thing that remains is to decide what taste the filling will be. Our team prefers a fruit one:)



When making up the design, we tried to come up with something unusual, breaking gray everyday life. We wanted to have some provocative and swashbuckling features, not just a standard lone logo. A mug with a picture inside? A chameleon mug? Maybe an unusual shape? None of the options we've considered has seemed great for us. Some samples looked very shabby, some were of terrible quality. Not only did the mug have to be delivered intact, but we also wanted the gift to be handy to its owner for long. In the end, we ditched the idea of all these "high technologies" and settled on simple metal enamel mugs.

Even at the stage of options consideration we came up with the idea that it would be cool to fill the mug with bugs. Here's the message: bugs are everywhere, not only in the code, but also in life, and our product will help to deal with at least the ones in code!.. Well, and with a mug too:).

As for design solutions, I kicked around its free surface and made a smooth transition of reducing the number of bugs from one of the sides. I drew the unicorn inspired by "Ghostbusters" (one of my favorite movies, there's so much drive and rock 'n' roll in it). Katya came up with a cool motivating phrase. Here's the flat drawing:


This is how the final version of a mug looks like:


Most of all, we were afraid that the presence of both inscriptions and pictures on the mug may look old-fashioned, as it often happens with the names of cups' owners or horoscopes (often, but certainly not always). Do you think we managed to put our plan into action?

Mug coaster

Initially, we had the idea to create a beer coaster, we had some nice sketches.


Sketches for beer coasters

But in the end, we decided to settle on simple mug coasters. The logic is simple: one can drink tea or coffee at work, but as for alcohol...Well, it depends on the company :)

We figured out the main concept almost at once, but materials took us few tries. It was the first time when we had such type of merch. We tried cork coasters, cardboard ones, along with different companies printing for us, but still we weren't pleased with the quality. We did crash tests on them, and all the time they would either soak from water, or easily break in hands. One company offered us an unexpected option - make coasters from rubber. We tried and liked them. They fold easily, don't slide on the table and look very unusual, just like a mouse mat.


Coaster reminding of rest




There is no particular point in writing about them, although we have written cool phrases on them. I can only say that we always take chocolates with us, because:

1) They are delicious;

2) During the conference second day when the meal ends, many come to us for sweets.


Office stuff


Mood statuses


The first and so far the most interesting of all our handout is the statuses for programmers. I came up with them due to existing statuses of moods, where different animals nicely describe their current emotional state. Just like a stubborn squirrel, a dull penguin, a vicious pony, etc. One morning I was going to work and had a idea:


That is to come up with cool inscriptions related to programming and use our unicorns that will reflect them.

When I told this idea to Andrei (@Andrey2008), we realized that it wasn't crazy, we got excited and began to think about the inscriptions with pictures.

I asked Andrey to write a list of phrases that may reflect joy and pain of a programmer. As for me, I started writing common phrases for all positions and jobs, everyday ones. Such as "I'm busy, come back tomorrow," "Coffee break," "Friday" and others. After we made about 20 examples, I began to surf the Internet looking for reference pictures of popular memes. We kept discussing, adding and sweeping aside some ideas. It all gave us the overall picture of how it should look like.


The next step was drawing unicorns. We didn't have a full-time designer then, and all our unicorns were black and white and without blue shirts, as now. We reached out to the freelance designer who had painted previous versions of our mascot. We wrote detailed requirements specifications on each unicorn's look and emotion followed by a meme example with an inscription. When we got the first pictures, we were delighted. All the unicorns were very funny and a bit eccentric, but that's what we wanted to get.

And then there was a long cooperation with the printing company which, after a couple of trial versions, became very simple and quite fast. For 2 years we have ordered more than 7000 copies, which now please programmers in different cities of our country and abroad.

Demand generates supply, so we didn't stop at the statuses for programmers. For team-leads and Q&A engineers conferences, we have prepared special versions that differ in inscriptions, some pictures and their order. They also went well, especially the version for Q&A engineers. During all this time, our statuses have become so widely known in the narrow circles of IT specialists that sometimes it seems that they are more famous than our analyzer. It's a joke, of course. Hopefully the joke... :)


Once there was a funny occasion at a conference. A young lady came up to me and asked for statuses for colleagues, but we were out of versions for Q&A engineers that she wanted to take. Then she asked what conferences we would visit in the near future and found the one where we could cross with her. And after a while we sent our speaker to that conference with gifts especially for that lady. We also came up with a password for her to get the present. So the mission was taken very seriously :)

Perpetual calendar

It's another no less funny thing that can please someone, being on the table. It looks similar to the statuses, has unicorns, cool inscriptions and flips over. This time we did them with our staff designer whom we were urgently looking for. Once we found her, she immediately got an incredible amount of work. We are sorry, Galina :) In this project, I was responsible for creative inscriptions, and Galya - for cool pictures.


It was one of my very first projects in this company. I remember when I came for an interview, I was asked a few profession related questions, and then told that the decision would be made after the test task and that I would have to draw a unicorn. A rather strange request from an IT company, I thought, but still agreed to look at the technical design specification and examples, and at that point it became even more surprising:


I wouldn't say the style was close to me, and the boy's emotion wasn't obvious to me. What is he doing? Is it nicely giggling? Is he smirking villainously? Laughing his problems in the face? What on earth is this and how to apply it to this unicorn?.. In the end, I did this emotion in two versions, and the second one got positive feedback. With small changes it became an April illustration in our calendar. As for me, I was hired and asked to draw 11 more pictures of the magic horse for each month, fix some old pictures and create the cover.


Emotion versions for a test task

As a result, the calendar turned out to be no worse than the statuses. It is a flip-over binder with 3 separate folding piles of sheets, months and dates that can be put together from two individual digits. On the other side you can see the advice for an IT specialist, the inscriptions of which are combined and drawn up depending on the day of the week.


Even people unrelated to IT were happy to receive it, as in addition to creating mood, it has useful functionality when working in an office. Anyway, this oddity couldn't replace its predecessor. Excited people would usually take it but still would ask for grabbing statuses as well.

Needless to say, along with entertaining merch, we also make pens, notebooks and leaflets telling about who we are and what we are capable of.

Distributing materials

Product leaflets

Last season we decided to renew our old version of leaflets. It was tightly stuffed with an awful lot of information about the product. We had to wonder whether the information was useful and what exactly a person, having learnt about the analyzer for the first time, wanted to know about it.

That's how we came up with an idea of a small pocket guidebook. We made it of a 12x12 cm book size: it's easy to hold and the large print makes the information to be presented gradually and consistently without interfering with each other. Stylistically, the book is different from the previous one: I've added jobbing font, jagged edges of background objects, and tried to move out of the formal style.

Almost every developing stage needed hourly consultations from programmers, telling which information is actually necessary and which should be given less space and placed less emphasis on, what exactly each chapter should contain and how they should interact (which is not an easy task). The efforts weren't in vain. Eventually, we made not just a leaflet to learn about the product but a guidebook for a booth attendant having illustrative answers to the common questions.


Hiring leaflet

For regional conferences, we have a leaflet representing not the analyzer but our company in order to find new employees.

When we were designing it, Katya offered to use a window type leaflet as a format. It would make it easier to open it quickly and see all the information vividly. It was an unusual choice, and we wanted the design to be in line with the format the most. So we started to think how to do it. We'd been brainstorming for a long time and at some point I decided to make a joke (brainstorming is when you can offer even the most ridiculous ideas, isn't it?). 'Let's put a maniac unicorn wearing a coat in the middle of the page', I said. 'When a potential applicant opens the leaflet he/she will actually open the coat!' We laughed and then Katya told me that she liked the idea and we'd work on it.


As a result, I'd been shocking programmers for a couple of days showing them references on my monitor. After that, we had this ad leaflet.



To sum up, we'll share some tips for making merch and the way it should look.

1. Functional

The things you present to the participants should be at least useful. Notebooks, pens, stickers and T-shirts are must haves at any conference if you don't have an opportunity to experiment and bother with handouts.

2. Emotion-evoking

If something interesting and unusual catches a participant's eye they'll definitely approach you. And if it has funny and well-designed pictures and controversial writing then success is guaranteed. It's always a pleasure to look at a participant who took a piece of merch and gives an emotional speech about it to their colleague and then takes an interest in your product and company.

3. Recognizable

There's no doubt that you should not only brand your product but mention your company as well. So the participants could know not only WHERE they can get this or that souvenir but also explain WHO they can get it from.

Here's an illustrative example. At a conference, there were funny hats of unusual shape given for a social media account subscription that nobody kept track of. Everything was built on trust. You didn't have to solve any puzzles or participate in a contest, etc. After yet another wave of participants approaching the booth there were no hats left. But in all of this, when we asked people wearing those hats where we could get them, and what the company was, each of them said they knew the place but nobody said anything about neither the company nor the product. The hats had small stickers on them, which were later removed, and the merch had no name. Of course, those hats were eye-catching and recognizable at the conference itself drawing the participants' attention to the booth but they didn't make sense for the future promotion.

If at a conference or on social media you hear from someone that they had seen their colleagues or friends from another IT company have your merch, and now they want to get it, it means you do everything right. It's time to tell them about the company and present a souvenir.


4. Reflecting company's essence

It's nice when merch is useful and eye-catching but it's still better if it's somehow connected to the company's activity. And again, pens and notebooks with a logo are not enough if a small company wants to promote itself. You should focus on something you want your company to be associated with when people look at your leaflets. It may be writing on stickers, useful tips or advantages of working in the company on the first notebook pages that can help you with brand and company awareness.

5. Expensive

As for the conferences, most of the inexperienced participants won't be that picky about the sponsors' merch. If there's anything they can get for free, why not. But if it looks cheap, the contour is rough, the print is crooked and it has a specific odor then you can be 99.9% sure that the merch will be sent to a trash can after a detailed check. Don't skimp on merch! It's doesn't matter if you have little – its quality is much more important. And if it is of a high quality don't devalue it – present it only for solving puzzles and participating in lotteries. That's how people will remember your company: they will approach you to say the solution, talk to you and will be happy to win a prize.

6. Mass-oriented

Don't act on every impulse: expensive but little merch or cheap but much merch. Does a conference last for 2 days? Take as much merch as 2 days require. It's better to take the remaining bunch back than give it all away on the first day and stand at an empty booth for the rest of the time. Notebooks, pens, stickers should be enough for all the people approaching your booth. If it's clear that you'll be running out of handouts pretty soon, take a simple quick game. It may be a puzzle, board, or console game – it doesn't really matter. It will always attract some people to your booth creating the crowd effect.

7. Personalized

When you need to start a conversation and bond with a particular individual it takes more than regular leaflets for everyone. They'll be particularly pleased to get a personalized present useful and connected to their job. It's not a simple task, as experience has shown, but if you work hard on this, the result will be not long in coming.


Thanks to everyone who've read the entire article. We hope that we managed to tell you about our path of creating some interesting stuff, and it will be an inspiration. See you at the 2020 conferences!

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