There Is Such a Thing as Bad Swag

5 Ways to Avoid Wasting Your Marketing Budget

Molly McShea | Co-Fouder

Hi, my name is Molly and I love free stuff. Growing up, I always took the leftover shampoo bottles, soaps, and other toiletries from hotel rooms. At the fair, forget about the rides, I wanted to make the rounds to the stalls and take everything my little arms could hold.


This not so secret part of myself has continued to grow and while I don’t want to brag, I’ve turned into quite the swag connoisseur. I’m pretty hip to what’s out there and what makes any go-to item unique and memorable. I’m so into it, I’ve even considered going from connoisseur to consultant (hello, side hustle) and here’s why.


There’s a lot of junk out there. Stuff that no one would use or be interested in and it goes directly into the trash or goodwill pile. It’s a waste of money and can easily be avoided by asking one simple question, would I be excited to receive this?


Yes, people love free stuff. But that doesn’t mean that you can buy anything, put your logo on it, and assume it is going to work marketing magic. There’s an art to buying swag and when it’s good it’s good but when it’s bad, it’s really bad.


My point was proven recently when I stopped by the booth for one of my favorite countries at a travel tradeshow. While I won’t call them out, this is a hip, artistic, vibrant country full of amazing people.  How did they showcase their hip, artistic, and vibrant community? A green hat with a hashtag referencing something about nature on the front.


You might be thinking, that’s not that bad. It was. It was not the color green that transports us to memories of frolicking through a forest, it was green green. Like ROYGBIV green. And the hashtag wasn’t in a cute, small font. It was in a generic font (Times New Roman?) and spread across the entire front of the hat. One misstep after another that guaranteed that that hat would never see the light of day outside of that conference building.


On the other hand, there was a hotel at that same conference that gave out metal straws to showcase their commitment to eliminating plastic straws from their properties. Now that I can use.


My tips for buying good swag.


1st: Make sure it’s something you’d use. If you think it’s junk, everyone you’re giving it to will probably think the same thing.


2nd: Buy for your budget. It’s OK to have a lower budget, this just means you’ll have to get creative. Resist the urge to get the junky, plastic water bottle just because that’s the only water bottle that you can afford. Instead, find another item that may be smaller but doesn’t compromise on quality. Sometimes the best gifts really do come in the smallest boxes.


3rd: Consider something relevant to your business: We have a few different swag items, but one that we give out the most is a set of packing cubes. They help you organize your suitcase when traveling and whenever our travelers use them, they’ll think of us. Your community is unique and your swag should reflect that.


4th: Get something useful: Sure, the kitschy pin might be cute, but is it something that this person will ever use again after this event? Will they even use it during this event? Give out fewer, higher ticket items that will be used versus thrown away two seconds later. Your marketing budget and the earth will thank you.


5th: Speaking of the earth, consider the environmental impact: I’ve referenced this a few times in this post, but seriously, consider the bigger picture when you’re buying swag. Think through the whole process: how it’s made, packaged and its life after it leaves your hands.

Swag can be a great marketing tool for your business, but only if it’s done right.  Let us know in the comments the best swag you’ve ever received or seen!


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