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Ode to Swag

December 10, 2012

For MarComm folks the term “swag” means “promotional items,” especially those given away for free at tradeshows and product launches. I’ve been thinking about the word lately because it’s coming time for me to retire my favorite swag of all time. When I mentioned this sad news with my teenage daughter she looked at me incredulously. It turns out the term “swag” means something totally different to her.

In fact, the term “swag” has several meanings, including: illegally obtained goods (think pirates’ booty), a decorative garland, a valance or drapery, or a decoration made up of flowers or fruit. The current Urban Dictionary definition for swag begins, “The most used word in the whole #@!% universe…” I’m pretty sure that’s not true (on earth and in English it’s the word, “the”). The Urban Dictionary entry is referring to the proliferation of the term swag on the internet and in popular culture to describe a person’s style, attitude, or appearance, as in “Justin Bieber’s got killa swag.” It is similar to the term “swagger,” a panache or presence that exudes confidence. Last year NPR’s “All Things Considered” declared swag “hip-hop’s word of the year” Now you can understand my daughter’s confusion because in her eyes I have no swag and if I did, swag is something you can’t give away, either you’ve got it or you don’t.

People tell me that Justin Bieber has swag. (graphic credit: from somewhere on the Interwebs)

People tell me that Justin Bieber has swag.

But I digress, in my world swag means tchotchkes, that “Stuff We All Get” at tradeshows and events. From a marketer’s point-of-view the best type of swag is easy to reproduce in quantity (i.e., cheap) but appreciated and used often by your target customer. Bonus points if it is highly visible and usable within a context that would lead to a sale or call to action. One piece of swag I recently admired was a rubber grip for opening jars with the contact info for an arthritis clinic. Pens with a company name and logo are always a safe bet. A few years ago pens were mostly supplanted in the hi-tech world by logoed USB flash drives. I once ordered several thousand Windows logoed pens that contained a hidden USB flash drive on the top half, the best of both worlds! In a previous post I’ve mentioned inexpensive swag such as refrigerator magnets (now out of fashion) and shoelaces (a surprising hit), but not all swag is cheap. In the past I’ve handed out LCD photo frames and pricey neoprene jackets to “key influencers” at more exclusive events. And the value of the Academy Awards Oscar swag bags easily reaches into the tens of thousands of dollars each year.

My favorite piece of swag – as it appeared in better days.

My favorite piece of swag – circa 2008.

The best piece of swag I ever personally received was a Windows 95 gym bag given to employees at the launch party. It wasn’t necessarily a great piece of promotion as the logo blended into the fabric. But because the logo was so subtle and the duffle was such a perfect size I used it for many years as my primary workout bag. In other words, it was great for me, but didn’t do much to spread Windows goodwill. But alas, after all those years a couple of the zippers went off track and it’s getting awkward to use, so now it’s time for me to retire the duffle bag from daily use.

Will Ferrell has (ironic) swag! (graphic credit: somewhere from the Interwebs)

Will Ferrell has (ironic) swag!

2 Comments
  1. Commenting on my own post with a quick and fun Swag post from D11 (All Things Digital). “What’s the best swag you’ve received?” is an evergreen question sure to elicit impassioned responses. http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130529182611-13780238-what-s-inside-the-d11-swag-bag

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