Three Reasons why Swag is Not a Four-Letter Word

Man covering his mouth in shock.

I’m always fascinated to hear about the “swag bags” given out to attendees of Hollywood award shows – the mix of high-end items and brands is always fascinating (and typically aspirational). Most of us in real-world corporate America don’t have the luxury of a big budget or connections with major brands and influencers to pull something like this off. Many of us are satisfied if we can get some pens, stress balls, and water bottles to give out at our next event.

According to Merriam-Webster, the term “swag” or “schwag” came about in the 1960s to describe the free stuff companies would give out at events as a promotional stunt. Digging deeper (like 17th-century deep), swag was also a reference to stolen loot.

It’s no wonder that many marketers (myself included) don’t hold a high opinion of swag (or tchotchkes, as one of my bosses liked to call promotional products). We’ve often relegated this marketing and sales tool as a non-strategic afterthought.

Now that I’ve worked in the promotional products industry for a couple of years, I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that swag plays in meeting our clients’ business goals. Here are the top three reasons why swag is not a dirty word.

Reason 1: Swag captures attention

Okay, you might not be disputing this point. After all, marketers have used freebies to attract conference visitors to their booths for decades. I’m suggesting that the strategic use of promotional products can break through much of the existing marketing noise to capture a recipient’s attention and make a lasting connection.


    • Supplementing your lead generation or nurturing email campaigns by promising recipients a promotional product gift for taking a specific action. This can boost the average click-through rate from 11.3% and help you achieve your brand awareness goals. (Remember to mention the gift opportunity in the Subject line so that your email gets opened.)
    • Trying direct mail to reach your audience where they’re at. If you’re an HR leader, there’s nothing more attention-getting than sending employees a company-branded gift to their home. (That’ll get their attention at open enrollment time!)
    • Rewarding participants of a webinar or hybrid event with a useful promotional item is the perfect way to remind them of your brand long after the event is over.

Reason 2: Swag is cost-effective

Marketers know that email is a cost-effective marketing strategy. According to Litmus, email generates $42 for every $1 spent. Digital ads are also a popular strategy for promoting your brand, with most businesses earning an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 they spend on AdWords (Google Ads).

You may be surprised to learn that most promotional products have a Cost per Impression (CPI) of less than ½ cent, making them an excellent value.

Other stats supporting the use of promotional products:

    • 85% of promo product recipients remember the advertiser.
    • On average, people keep promo products for eight months (and more than half keep some of their promos for more than five years!)
    • According to the Advertising Specialties Institute (ASI) research, promotional products are the most liked form of advertising, followed by the newspaper.
    • U.S. households own an average of 30 promo products!

Reason 3: Swag is fun

This may seem obvious, but just because something is fun doesn’t mean it can’t also be strategic. One of the many benefits of promotional items is that people enjoy receiving free stuff and associate positive feelings with the giver of the swag.

Ways to inject the fun power of swag:

    • Welcome gifts for new team members or new clients
    • Employee incentives for project or task completion
    • Introductory “door openers” for your sales team
    • Recruitment kits for HR
    • Prizes for exhibit booth games
    • Incentives for customer surveys

This is far from an exhaustive list. The real fun comes from selecting promotional products that align with your brand, meet your objectives, and delight the recipient. With the help of a partner like Foxtrot, strategically using promotional products won’t have you using any of the “real” four-letter words, we promise!