Creative Deal Toy Ideas: 7 Frequently Overlooked Sources of Inspiration (Updated)

March 4, 2020 by David Parry

Blackstone Group Deal Tombstone

Coming up with creative deal toy ideas can be a chore for bankers, especially when they’re faced with the same predictable, stock suggestions. Fortunately there are a number of imaginative–though commonly overlooked— design alternatives.

Coming up with memorable deal toy ideas can sometimes be a huge challenge for bankers—and a needlessly time-consuming one.

Especially when, as is often the case, your client’s company or industry doesn’t readily lend itself to design concepts—or at least, ones that are creative…or original…or practical, or perhaps, above all, affordable.

Beyond that, your MD may have certain expectations or preferences when it comes to deal toy designs—which may already have been made pretty clear to you.

Of course, most deal toy companies are not going to expect you to come up with design ideas for your tombstone.

Still, many bankers—even senior bankers—like to take an active role in the design process, and some consider making a contribution to the final result a point of pride.

And, anyway, handling deal toys should be one of the fun parts of your job, right?

Yes, logo-themed designs often serve as the default suggestion; but logos can still be used in highly creative and unexpected ways, as in the deal toy here.

A back view of the same design.

Standard, Default Deal Toy Ideas You’re Likely To Hear

So what should you do?

You could, of course, accept the predictable, default suggestion of simply opting for a conventional design.

Make no mistake: we suggest classic deal toy designs like this to clients all the time, and they can be highly effective.

But what if you want to do something slightly more imaginative, even if it’s just an alternative design that you might only consider?

Deal teams often begin the ordering process with at least a rough idea of what they want (or don’t want) for their deal gifts; and to that extent, you may want to kick start your creative thinking.

So where does that leave you?

More Standard, Default Deal Toy Ideas You’re Likely to Hear

Some companies, and even whole sectors, readily lend themselves to creative, custom deal toy designs.

Other deals can pose problems—even if it’s only that most of the relevant design ideas have already been overused.

In those instances, the default suggestion from—often the only suggestion—is to base the design on your client’s company logo.

Basing a design on a clients’s logo can work extremely well, and again, we do this all the time.

But what if your client’s logo doesn’t really offer up many design possibilities?

Or if it does, logo-themed deal toys may well have been done for them before—maybe to death.

So either of these default suggestions could ultimately work for you; but if you’re initially looking for additional options, or other possible creative alternatives, we’ve provided some suggestions below.

1.Play Off the Deal’s Project/Code Name

Tiger-Themed Crystal Deal Tombstone

What’s the relevance of a tiger in this 2019 deal involving a global exhibitions company? It’s actually a reference not to a code name, but to the acquisition vehicle used in the deal. The tiger also highlights an effect often used in crystal: 3D laser etching.

A code name-inspired design.

This is one of the most neglected sources for meaningfully customized deal toys.

Project names can really enliven design possibilities; and if you’re looking for a design element that will make for a  truly customized, unique commemorative—one that will resonate with recipients for years to come—the intimate and closely guarded nature of a code name gives it considerable cachet.

We recently explored code named-based deal toy ideas and the interest the piece drew among bankers prompted a sequel.

Code names can be introduced in a variety of ways. In some cases, such as the piece commemorating project “Big Bang” below, the code name can be the centerpiece of the design.

In the case of the project “River” design also shown here, the code name is incorporated far more subtly.

The designs also vary in terms of how literally the code name is incorporated in the design. In the case of the project “Step” piece shown here—commemorating PayPal’s divestment from Ebay—the connection is pretty literal and straightforward.

Roman Galley-Themed Tombstone

What’s the connection between this deal toy and the underlying satellite tv assets involved in this high-profile deal? Very little. The design instead played off the deal’s code name.

21st Century Fox-Sky-Comcast Deal Toy

Another view of code name-inspired 21st Century Fox-Sky-Comcast deal toy.

Project “Big Bang” Deal Tombstone

River-Themed Financial Tombstone

Project “River” Deal Toy

Project “STEP” Deal Toy

2. Look for Deal Toy Ideas in The Relevant Locations (and especially with cross-border transactions).

Your Texas-based client has no doubt already at least seen, if not actually received, deal toys in the shape of the state or country; but location-based designs can effectively play off a far broader range of themes related to cities, states, and countries.

Maps are one fairly obvious location-based design feature.

Yes, deal toys and commemoratives in the shape of the state of Texas are pretty commonplace; the recent design below, however, works in the state’s shape in an unexpected way—as part of the base.

Similarly, the design below creatively works in the California theme while providing a necessary recess to anchor the drop shape.

The deal toy components can be seen more clearly below:

Flagscurrencies, and other national symbols can, as well, provide a number of creative possibilities.

The design shown in the two pieces below makes creative use of two national flags:

These cross-border pieces below makes use of both map and flag motifs:

Map themes offer a more literal option for location-based designs.

A top view of this map-based design. Notice that the flags incorporated on the text convey the cross-border aspect of the deal.

A more traditional map-themed piece, centering on Russia.

Russia-themed deal toy

Map-Themed Deal Toy Commemorating British insurer RSA’s Sale of its Russian Operations.

The shape of certain countries, regions, and states can pose a design challenge. The E-CL piece below cleverly makes use of a contour to incorporate a map of Chile.

Chile-Themed Deal Tombstone

Deal Toy Design Playing Off Transaction Location

The design shown in the two photos below—which commemorates a Daytona Beach real estate transaction—overcomes the challenge of unobtrusively working in the shape of the state of Florida.

Returning to flag motifs, a less traditional though highly-effective use of a national flag is made in the Union Jack-draped Austin Powers Jaguar below—which ties in perfectly with the GBP issue it commemorates.

British-Themed Deal Toy Incorporating Austin Powers Jaguar

Location-based themes also play to the increasing trend toward multinational transactions. Two deal toys for cross-border transactions are shown below, one with a flag motif, the other using currency symbols.

Cross-Border Deal Toy Incorporating Flag Motif

Currency-Themed Deal Tombstone

Cross-Border Deal Toy Incorporating Currency Symbols

3. Base Your Deal Toy Idea on the Transaction Type

Over the years, we’ve often taken inspiration from the very nature of the deal itself, whether it was a bolt-on acquisition, Dutch auction, swap, spin-off, PIPE transaction etc.

The first two designs below are examples of a spin-off-inspired deal toy, also reflecting a current trend. The third design is a more literal rendering of a “block” trade.

A design playing off the transaction type: a spin-off.

Another spin-off-Inspired Deal Toy Idea

Block Trade-Themed Deal Tombstone

Deal Toy Idea Based on Transaction Type

4. Make Use of a Inside Joke or Bond

Running jokes are usually fodder for gag gifts, but sometimes they’re so central to the transaction that they become a focal point of the deal.

One highly successful design we manufactured featured a Pepperidge Farm cookie inside Lucite—the snack having been the staple of meetings between the parties during negotiations.

In the Preferred Sands piece shown below the motorcycle is completely unrelated to the subject matter of the transaction. What it does reflect is a shared passion for motorcycles within the company.

Again, this is the type of customization that makes for meaningful, enduring, and above all, valued deal toys.

Motorcycle-Themed Deal Tombstone

Deal Toy Idea Arising Not from Transaction Itself but from a Shared Passion of Participants

5. Highlight the Significance of the Deal

Deals can often be described in terms such as ground, barrier, or record-breaking, and all of these suggest possible design options—nicely represented by the IBM piece below.

IBM Wrecking Ball-Themed Deal Toy

6. Find Ideas by Combining Elements of the Deal

Combining aspects of the deal can transform well-worn concepts into something unique.

In the three designs below elements of the transactions are seamlessly, and creatively, combined.

The crystal tombstone below combines design elements—a horseshoe, a carrot, and the state of Washington—to convey very precisely the specifics of the asset involved: a Washington-based company specializing in apparel for the equestrian sports sector.

Washington State-Themed Deal Tombstone

Kellogg’s Euro issue is cleverly conveyed in artwork of the Keebler Elf—a quintessentially American brand mascot—fanning a wad of Euro notes.

In the third design commemorates an Massachusetts-based solar project.

Example of Deal Toy Design Based on Combination of Transaction Elements

Deal Elements Combining for Fresh Deal Toy Design

7. Play Off a Distinguishing Feature of the Deal

Deals can be remarkable for any number of reasons: their contentiousness, for instance, or the swiftness with which the parties came to terms.

For one deal characterized by particularly arduous, grueling negotiations, we designed a 3-D piece showing Sisyphus pushing uphill a giant rock—bearing the opposing party’s logo.

Sunwest Management Custom Lucite Tombstone

The deal toy designed for The Blackstone Group shown here is a great example. The turtle was inspired by both the pace and duration of transaction (the cane and spectacles, on the other hand, relate to the nature of the business: assisted-living facilities).

David Parry is the Director of Digital Strategy for the Corporate Presence and Prestige Custom Awards, which provides a variety of awards including ESPN’s Espy Awards, and The National Football League Commissioner’s Awards.

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