Confessions of a swag hag


Conferences beget swag. What is swag? Swag is typically anything given to you for free by a company in hopes of engendering goodwill and encouraging future sales of that company’s product. Swag is usually branded with the company’s name. When you go to conferences, particularly blogging conferences, it’s common for you to collect so much swag that it won’t fit in your suitcase. Thus, some of it gets left behind to engender goodwill (or more likely bad will) with the maid.

I’ve been to three BlogHer conferences, two FitBloggin‘s, and one Wordcamp, so I’ve been given a lot of swag over the years. I’m grateful for the companies that sponsor these events because without them the conferences wouldn’t be possible. That or we’d all have to pay $1000 for tickets. I’m glad they’re there and I’ve been more than happy to accept their free granola bars and plastic martini glasses over the years.

That said, sometimes people get a little nutty about swag. At a certain conference I shall not name it’s gotten more out of control every year until it now seems like a competition to find the most expensive piece of swag and flaunt it in front of everyone else. Sometimes I want to tell people to CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Free stuff is fun, sure, but can anyone name every piece of swag they got at a conference a year ago? A month ago? Oprah Winfrey said that even though people get really excited about her Favorite Things show, most of them won’t remember everything they got a year afterward. That’s why she chose to send her super-fans on a trip to Australia because she knew people would never forget the experience of that vacation. Memories are more precious than things. Strangely, I think that’s why it’s hard to throw out some things. You’re not attached to the object but you’re attached to the memories that come with it.

Even though it’s a lot of fun to get swag, how much swag do you actually use on a regular basis? I decided to look around my house and see what swag has managed to stick around in my life long after the vendor tables were folded up.

Please note: You can assume that any food I got was promptly gobbled up, or I took at least one bite before throwing it out, because that’s how I jelly roll. As such, it will not be listed, nor will any coupons I might have used to get a food item or other product (because I can’t remember them). I’m also not including anything I got at invitation-only corporate events or that were sent to me directly by companies, though there are several of those items I still use.

These are listed in no particular order other than the one I remembered them in:

1) Tiara: BlogHer 2009, Chicago

Ok, I don’t actually use this tiara. I abdicated my throne, so I’m no longer a queen, and a dried macaroni tiara would have been more suitable anyway. The tiara is designed for a child, so it doesn’t fit on my head comfortably either. (No big head jokes, please.) I got it at one of the BlogHer parties and now it sits on my bookshelf looking pretty. It’s not useful at all, but I dig it. Maybe there’s something to all that Disney princess bullshit after all. (This might not technically count as swag because it’s not branded and isn’t promoting any product that I know of, but it’s right up in my face everyday and I got it for free at a conference, so I’m including it.)

2) GreenLiteBites bowl: FitBloggin’ 2010, Baltimore

Green Lite Bites (ice cream) bowl
Roni gave Fitbloggin’ 2010 attendees these great bowls that advertise her GreeLiteBites recipe site. It came with a spoon that I confess I don’t use. Roni might want to stop reading here because I don’t think this was her intention for the bowl, but I use it mostly for ice cream. It smaller than the rest of my bowls so it keeps the portion size down and makes the serving look larger since it fills the whole bowl. It’s also really well made, not some plastic throwaway crap, which is another reason I’ve kept it.

3) Butterball pot holder: BlogHer 2007, Chicago

This swag is a turkey
Everyone needs a potholder, right? (Except for helper robots and Superman.) This potholder isn’t particularly better or worse than any of my other potholders, but it’s still in my kitchen, so score one for Butterball! I have never used it when cooking a turkey though, and I doubt I ever will. Sorry, Butterball, but I’m not your demographic. Score one for resistance to repetitive ad messages!

4) BlogHer messenger bag: BlogHer 2008, San Francisco (?)

An actual swag bag
It’s not that this bag is spectacularly well made or bigger on the inside than the outside. It just fits over my shoulder really well when I’m on a bike. I used to use it to shuttle books back and forth from the library when I lived close to a library. Just goes to show practicality will win over glitz in the long run, at least with me.

5) Assorted notebooks: Various conferences

Give me a decent notebook and I’ll probably use it. I had a Wiley notebook that I used up that’s not pictured here, but was always easy to find because it was an intense neon green. The Shutter Sisters notebook is unlined, so I use it for client sketches and notes. The POM notebook I use as a food diary, but I have to admit I didn’t realize it was a POM notebook until I opened it up for this photo. I usually keep it open to record food entries. Note to POM: Next time brand the pages with your logo, too.

6) A million USB drives

Jump little jump drives!
Ok, not a million, but a lot more than I really need. I have almost a dozen, but the one I use the most is the 2 gigabyte New Balance one I got at FitBloggin’ 2010 because it’s the biggest. If you’re going to give out a jump drive, don’t skimp on the storage space! I will always, ALWAYS, prefer the one with the most storage space. You hear that you skimpy little 250mg AOL Body drive? That’s why you’re hidden in a box on my shelf and not traveling in my purse.

7) Michelin Man tire pressure gauge: BlogHer 2008, San Francisco

Mmmm, marshmallows
To be totally honest, I don’t think I’ve ever used the tire pressure gauge, but I do keep it in my dashboard compartment just in case. It also reminds me of the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, so how could I not eat love it?

8 ) New Balance headphones: FitBloggin’ 2011

Ear buds
I only got these headphones a few weeks ago, but I already know I will use them a lot. They are the headphones I have been searching for that combine the non-dorkyness of earbuds with little earloops to actually keep the earbuds in my ear. This is the second time New Balance has made my list, the only company to do so. Score one (or two) for the New Balance PR department!

9) HP Laptop Sticker: Blogher 2008, San Francisco

HP gave out big stickers they call SkinIts that go on the back of your laptop, instantly making it prettier and more easily identifiable. I don’t have a picture of mine because I recently gave that laptop to my mom, but I really did love it. Someone even complimented me on it at a coffee shop once!

My only real complaint is that the guy at the booth told me to see the other guy at the booth for help putting the sticker on because he was a real wizard at it. When I went to that guy he was like, “I’ve never applied one of these stickers in my life.” So, yes, a PR person LIED to me. LIED! I know you’re as shocked as I am.

That’s it.

So there you go. Six blog conferences and only nine pieces of swag have been integrated into my life. (Technically the notebooks and USB drives increase that number, but I’m lumping them together by category.) I don’t think I left anything out, but it’s possible I’ll see something in my apartment next week and think, “My doohicky from Whatsit Company! How could I forget my doohicky from Whatsit Company!”

Also, despite the branding I don’t think I’ve actually bought any of the products the swag in my life advertises. I used to buy New Balance shoes, but switched to a pair by Saucony because they better suit my pronation. Also, my old HP laptop had some issues (like freezing up when I tried to go on battery power), so cool sticker or not, I bought another brand laptop this year. Take from that what you will.

Of course, few people think they’re being affected by advertising. In reality we are all influenced by it despite ourselves. So I might actually be more inclined to buy Michelin tires next time, or eat a big bag of marshmallows in the car. Whatever.

Has any piece of swag integrated its way into your life? Are there any freebie items you have that you just couldn’t live without? Let me know!

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  1. says

    Fab post Jennette, very interesting to see what has stayed with you during all your house moves! I loved that Wiley green notebook too, and similarly cursed that pointless AOL USB drive :)

    Surprised to report I’m really diggin’ the New Balance shoes! I wore them straight out of the box for that mental Zumba class at Fitbloggin then again on Monday for 2.5 hours of Zumba/Salsa and no pain! Miraculous for my big hoofs. I was not paid to write this pararaph 😛

  2. says

    Seeing as FitBloggin’ was my first blog conference, it was my first run-in with swag. I must say though, the New Balance headphones are kickass. My Skull Candys bit the dust the week before FitBloggin’, and those New Balance headphones are FANCY. Being that I’ve never had headphones of the fancy persuasion before, I was baffled as to why 1 side of the cord was WAY longer than the other. Um, you put it behind your head so you don’t have cords bouncing on your tatas. Genius. And volume control on the cord? Shuddup.
    Oh, the shoes were pretty awesome too.

  3. says

    I love the swag from the different conferences! I’ve worn my New Balance shoes at work– ahhhhmazing! Can’t wait to use the NB headphones! shhhhweet :)

  4. Leigh says

    I attend publishers conventions. I got bags and bags and bags of gumdrops from Gumdrop Publishing. Ate ’em all up, yum! I got rulers and pencils, bookmarks and canvas bags. I got stress balls and little plastic flower bouquets. And lots of posters featuring new books. I love all my swag and keep it as long as I can.

  5. Jo says

    I go to seminars and conference a few times a year and always end up with notebooks, pens, highlighters, usb drives…boring shit. They must think that’s all HR people need. But honestly, the best stuff has been (still boring though useful) the envelope openers with the mini-razor-blade in them, lighted mirror compacts (good ones), and believe it or not….cheaters! You’ll need them eventually girl! And with a smart phone, you may already have ’em.

    Small hand sanitizers aren’t bad, mini screwdrivers have actually helped me out more than I care to admit, and my 6 inch hammer, mini-tool set and measuring tape have been used quite regularly in my office. They must think we are pretty good at fixing things too.

  6. says

    I attend sales competitions with my college students, and there is always a job fair. Biggest tip: Make sure the recruiters know you’re the faculty sponsor for whatever university. I have a really great scarf from Tom James company that I wear a lot, HP drawstring backpacks that are perfect for packing shoes, and I love the Johnson & Johnson table. Also, the HP photo print cards and the USB drives, and the music downloads from Verizon make great “prizes” in class.

  7. says

    So last year, BlogHer in NYC was my first blogging conference and I was an all out swag-whore. Seriously, it was ridiculous. Although I only shipped one box home, the housekeeping crew made out like bandits. From that conference I still use the USB drives, a gelato spoon and the BlogHer bag. I freakin’ puffy heart that bag. Oh, and my daughter loves the Dora shirt that was made in the swag hall of hell.

  8. Susan says

    I work in the forensic and medical examiner industry. My favorite swag ever (although totally useless) is a little plastic sperm that inches along your desk when you wind it up.

    Yes, I said sperm. It rocks.

    My favorite USEFUL swag is the barbeque dry rub that one of the laboratory equipment manufacturers hands out to honor their Kansas City roots. It is yummy on just about everything.

  9. Shady says

    @Susan – I work in medical politics and at a conference once I got a sperm shaped stress ball. It was hilarious and did double duty at relieving stress because the 10 year old boy in me laughed hysterically whenever I saw it. Eventually it became a cat toy, mainly because they chewed the tail off and it was not longer as much fun.

  10. says

    I got loads of frisbees at a student fair, which I used as plates for my first two years at university. Impossible to break, and handy rim stopped me spilling stuff. Avoid leaving on the hob though – they melt pretty easily!

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