Does it Suck or What? How to Avoid Sucky Swag


We’ve all come back from a trade show, conference, or fund-raising event with a pile of free stuff. You know what I am talking about, that plastic bag with a logo filled with flyers, silicone wristbands, pens, and peppermint candies. If you are like me, I let it sit for months on end in a corner, and when I finally go through it 99% of it gets filed under “G” better known as the garbage.

Now don’t get me wrong, free stuff is the best stuff on Earth! People just appreciate some thought and effort into what that free stuff is. Take a moment to consider the true point of giving out swag, to provide an outlet for continual free marketing. With this goal in mind, remember the swag you are giving out is a direct reflection of your company and is your opportunity to leave an impression.


I think pens are probably one of the top 5 most commonly given swag items. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with giving out a pen. The issue is it quality enough that someone would whip it out during a business meeting? Or is it going to get filed in the junk drawer at home? In scenario number two, your marketing was a waste of time and money. If you give out an item that is cheaply made people are less likely to use it daily. Additionally, they may subliminally associate your company with being cheap.


Consider how useable an item is for the general public before making a decision on your swag item. Slapping your logo on any old item is a waste of your effort and your marketing dollars. Consider the sports water bottle for instance. You know, the soft plastic one with a pull top lid that allows you to squirt water into your mouth? Unless you are at a convention for football players or cyclists, I doubt the general population is interested in this style of water bottle. The same goes for some of the newer trends like phone cases & chargers. Ensure the item you are considering is universal and not specific to a certain model of phone. Water bottles can be a great thing if they are well made and on trend with current styles and who wouldn’t love a battery pack cell phone charger? The point here is thinking out the usability of the item for the masses or at least the demographic of individual you are giving it to.


I attended an event planning conference a few years ago, and the local visitor’s bureau treated us all to a Carrie Underwood concert. How cool is that? Beyond this amazing experience, the part I remember the most is the special gift we each got in our hotel room; a current copy of Carrie’s latest album.  Talk about memorable! I’m not saying you need to go out and blow $15 per person on your swag, but thinking outside the box and giving something with meaning makes all the difference. People will continue to talk about it, which is exactly what you want! A local nonprofit had a bakery sponsor the swag for their event a few years ago, and their contribution were mini bundt cakes for each attendee to take home. I cannot tell you how many people still rave about that being the best takeaway gift they have ever received. (Side note: In general, you can almost never go wrong with a food swag!)

Don’t Overbrand

T-Shirts are one of those items that people always willingly take when offered, however their finally resting place is likely the pajama draw. There is absolutely nothing wrong with handing out T-Shirts for swag, there just needs to be some thought into the design of the shirt. Slapping sponsorship logos all over and choosing a color only 20% of America would ever considering wearing is not a step in the right direction. Instead, invest in a soft cotton fabric, consider offering male and female cuts and keep the overall design on trend with fashion. The same goes for totes, notebooks, water bottles . . . you name it. Have something tasteful and clean created, that just provides a hint of your company and the next thing you know it will be a talking piece on its own.

Swag should be thought of for what it truly is, an extension of your marketing. Does your swag selection reflect your brand? If you are dead set to continue handing out your go-to koozie at all your events just consider this one last piece of advice. The item you LOVE to give, might not necessarily be out of style it just might be outdated so, think outside the box!

Party On!

Melissa | Content Creator & Resource Developer | |

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