A Complete Guide to Swag Bags


When you’re involved in business, marketing, or advertising, there’s very likely to be a time when you might have to create a swag bag. We tend to associate swag bags with red carpet celebrity events, but the reality is, they have many more implications than that.

Below, we talk more about what you should know as you’re putting thought into your swag bags and when these marketing tools might be used.

What is a Swag Bag?

You’ve probably gotten a swag bag at some point without even realizing it. It’s something you might leave a networking event, fundraiser, or trade show with. The bag is full of promotional items, and the term “swag” is actually an acronym for “stuff we all get.”

A swag bag is really just a grown-up version of those goody bags you used to get at birthday parties as a child. Along with promotional items, there might also be some free samples. Depending on the type of event where the bag comes from, maybe there are some things from other businesses that sponsored whatever the occasion is or partnered with the leading organization putting it on.

Places you’ll see them, along with fundraisers and industry events, include races and athletic events, corporate training, and special events.

They’re a great way to market if you want to have people remember your brand, or maybe you want to create a sense of buzz around a new product or service.

The concept of swag bags seems to work. In a 2016 report from the Advertising Specialty Institute, around 855% of people say they can recall the name of companies that give them promotional products.

An older report from the Advertising Specialty Institute found that more than one-third of people who receive so-called swag are more likely to do business with the company that gave it to them.

Why Do Promotional Products Work?

We live in such a digital world that sometimes you might find yourself wondering why branded and promotional products still work, or maybe if they do at all. The reality is that promotional products are still an important part of a marketing strategy, and there’s the potential they’re even more effective because of how digitized things are.

So many marketers focus entirely online that it becomes beneficial to think outside the box. When you abandon some of the tried and true marketing techniques in favor of concentrating entirely online, you’re missing out on opportunities and the potential to gain a competitive advantage.

Promotional products and branded giveaways are like a souvenir that’s going to consistently remind people of your company, particularly if you give them something useful that they’re going to see a lot.

Most people keep promotional products for an average of eight months. Therefore, your advertisement will be sitting in front of someone much longer than a website popup would be. The time it’s front and center in someone’s life and mind depends on what it is, and if you give them something handy to their daily life, that average amount of exposure goes up to 14 months.

It’s likely that when someone receives a promotional product, they’re going to pass it to other people, and then those people will also be getting your message.

Research shows that most people who receive a promotional product are more likely to have a favorable impression of the brand that gave it to them. People can see, recognize and associate with your brand.

So why the popularity? Why do these products continue to endure as an effective form of marketing and advertising?

First, they’re tangible. Customers have become conditioned to ignore the majority of different types of advertising they’re inundated with on a daily basis. There’s a unique element of receiving something you can physically see and touch.

With recall rates for promotional products at around 85%, it’s an impact you can’t ignore if you’re in marketing or own a business. They also show that your business or brand is thinking of them. A sense of appreciation comes with getting a gift from a business or brand.

The Oscars Swag Bag

While you aren’t likely working with the resources of the organizers of the Oscars, it’s fun every year to get a peek into what they’re adding to their bags to give to celebrities who attend the event.

In the past couple of years, the Oscars hasn’t had all of the glamour it once did thanks to the pandemic, but they haven’t sacrificed on those famous gift bags.

In exchange for the items in the gift bags, organizers have pointed out to celebrities that the brands participating would appreciate a mention on social media. In many cases, celebrities are the best brand ambassadors for products and services, which is why companies are willing to give so many lavish items for free to the Oscars organizers.

In line with what’s going on in the world right now, in 2021, the Oscar gift bags focused on diversity, inclusion, health, and philanthropy.

For example, one item included was on-demand IV vitamin infusions. The bags were estimated to be around $205,000 in value, which can be a bit eye-watering but speaks again to the value these promotional products can have in the right circumstances.

If you’re in marketing, how can you create a swag bag on a much smaller budget but one that’s still going to resonate with your audience?

Creating a Swag Bag—Tips and Tricks

The following are things to keep in mind if you’re creating a swag bag for marketing purposes.

– Make It Personal
One of the most important things you can do if you’re charged with creating a swag bag for any reason is make it as personal as you can. That doesn’t mean you have to make a separately curated bag for every person, but it does mean that you should think carefully about who will be receiving the items.

What are they likely to be most interested in? What will be helpful and resonate with them?
You can tailor your bags to something exceptional when you know your audience.

You might even be able to develop a custom item or two that shows that you put thought into what you’re doing.

– Think Utilitarian
At least some of the items you put in a swag bag should have usefulness in daily life. Remember what we talked about above—when people are using promotional items, they’re thinking about them. They’re also potentially passing them onto other people, so your brand and message stay front and center.

Right now, hand sanitizer is a useful option. You can also think about digital tools people use to work, like USB flash drives.

Lanyards, notebooks, and cell phone card holders are good options.
Umbrellas tend to get a lot of use, and mugs and tumblers do too.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be getting the bags and promotional items as you consider whether something will be truly useful to them.

– Don’t Underestimate the Importance of the Bag Itself
When you’re creating a swag bag, what you put it in can be as important as what’s in it. People love bags that are useful and well-designed. There are a lot of options here. You can use a clear tote bag, a grocery-style tote, or you can go with a more high-end tote bag.

If you’re at a conference or trade show, you ideally want someone to use your bag to store the materials they collect for the rest of the event. It’s showcasing your brand every time someone carries it.

– Try to Add Items In Line with Your Business
While you want to personalize your bags and their contents to the people most likely to receive them, you also want to think about your business.

You want swag bags and contents that have something to do with your business. That reinforces the reminder element that people get each time they use something you’ve included in a bag.

– Focus on Quality
When you’re creating swag bags, go as high-quality on the items and the bag as you can afford. This will stand out. People like things that look and feel expensive and substantial. It’s better to put in a few higher-quality items than a lot of inexpensive or cheap items. Make it meaningful with quality.
If you add a lot of junk, people will simply throw the item away. You want to make sure that, along with being functional, it’s going to be something that your audience feels like is adding value to their life in some way.

Finally, keep the bag reasonably lightweight. You don’t want people to feel like they’re lugging around a suitcase.

It’s not necessarily easy to plan a swag bag, but taking the time to get it right can be well worth it for your marketing efforts, and they work across a number of situations.