Merchandising—whether it's swag (free stuff) or purchasable items (original cast albums, concert t-shirts, an Almodóvar espresso cup)—is here to stay, because it works. But coming up with something creative, something a little different from what people are used to—something, in other words, worth talking about—can give a campaign that extra nudge and push the product deeper into public awareness.
It doesn't even have to be expensive. For the right price, you can get a logo imprinted on just about any manufactured item you can think of, but the do-it-yourself method works too: I've seen musicians selling, along with their CDs and t-shirts, unique items such as art prints, self-printed books of poetry, homemade cosmetics, and logo-imprinted candy. Some of these items are more lasting than others, of course, but the creative thinking is evident. Singer-songwriter Kay Ashley hands out "Kay-zoos" at her shows—bright yellow kazoos emblazoned with her logo. During her set, she has you play along with a particular song, and when you go home you have a lasting (and possibly useful) souvenir.
So it's not necessarily about spending a lot of money. It's creative thinking that can give your product a push into the public's consciousness. Go and create.