Disposable USB Flash Drive – Myth or Reality

There’s been a lot of chatter around during the last couple of weeks on the subject of disposable, cardboard USB flash drives and whether they’re real or whether they’re just a concept drawn up by a Creative Director with an overly creative imagination – not unreasonable of course because that’s what they’re paid to do!

To be fair to any Creative Directors out there marketing and advertising campaigns using disposable USB flash drives have been with us for a little while now but most have used “web keys” rather than flash drives with any reusable flash memory on-board.

Web keys look similar to flash drives but their only function when inserted into a USB port on a PC or Mac is to fire up

Disposable USB Flash Drives

the local default web browser and then take the user to a pre-loaded website address – nothing is stored on the web key and the user can’t store their own files on it. Its primary function is just to drive “eyeballs” to a web site or web-based promotion. Once this task is complete the web key is redundant and is typically discarded or ideally recycled!

Because they’re a little bit different “web keys” arouse curiosity and people tend to use them just to see what happens when they’re “plugged in” so they’re great when used as part of a physical direct mail campaign or as a magazine insert.

The use of real disposable USB flash drives with reusable memory on-board is far less common simply because flash drives, even flash drives with a relatively small memory (say 1GB) are still too expensive to be deemed to be disposable. Although the price of branded USB flash drives has fallen over the last couple of years they still have a high-perceived value amongst people they are given to so to suggest that it would be “OK” to use them and then just “toss them away” might not be the best message to give out. It’s hardly a message that reinforces any “eco-friendly” credentials and at best is a message that is likely to alienate some people.

If flash memory prices continue to fall as they have done then conceivably we could see disposable flash drives emerge in the market but it would need the factories to continue to produce the flash memory modules. At the moment the factories just stop manufacturing them when the price point reaches a level where they can’t squeeze enough profit from them - This is partly the reason why it’s hard to buy 64MB and 128MB flash drives.

Flash drives available for pennies that we would all be comfortable “throwing away” do not exist and if the current manufacturing trends are continued they’ll never exist. So, truly disposable USB flash drives are possible but they’ll be expensive and any company using them needs to pay particular attention to the negative messages associated with encouraging people to “throw away” perfectly good products.

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