Sure, the H1N1 influenza had a big impact on the global vaccine producers, including GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. and Sanofi Pasteur Inc., in 2009.
But another sector is coming clean over its brush with the fast-spreading "swine flu": the makers of promotional products for advertising purposes.
That's right, the people who slap corporate logos on millions of pens and coffee mugs every year are gaga over bottles of hand sanitizer.
With public health messages telling us to wash our hands frequently to minimize the transmission of germs, a pint-size advertising vehicle took on new urgency.
Advertising Specialty Institute in Trevose is the center of the corporate tchotchke universe. Its membership includes 26,000 distributors and manufacturers of promotional products. In all, the sector accounted for about $20 billion in sales in 2008, according to ASI.
ASI has built its business helping distributors, whose clients include community bank marketing managers and advertising agencies, find that inexpensive item that they hope will make an impression on customers. Who doesn't have a bunch of logo-imprinted key chains, paperweights, and chip clips in the kitchen junk drawer or on the desktop?
But with swine flu making headlines this year, hand sanitizer was to 2009 as duct tape was to 2001. How could you not be grateful for that tiny bottle given to you by some towing company or personal-injury law firm?
According to ASI, hand sanitizer ranked behind only longtime champ pens among searches of its proprietary database by distributors. Searches for "hand sanitizers" were up 439 percent between October 2008 and October 2009.
Custom HBC Corp., of Waconia, Minn., has seen sales of its anti-bacterial sprayer rise from 400,000 units in May to 700,000 now.
So if pens are No. 1 and hand sanitizers are No. 2, what are the other giveaways people should expect to pick up at their next trade show? Scott Fuhr, ASI's director of corporate communications, said the next-most-popular searches were for tote bags, mugs, and lanyards.
I hope H1N1 fizzles so that soap isn't so popular next year. Let's root for a strong economic recovery and maybe money clips will break into the top 5.