Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blogher10: Since when did swag become so offensive?

I never quite understood why some take such offense to the idea that a conference sponsor would like to leave you a little thank-you gift for being willing to let them share their message with you. If you don’t want swag, don’t take any. Period. How the whole concept of swag at BlogHer (or any conference for that matter) got so complicated and controversial, I’ll never know. Maybe I missed something. Without sponsors, BlogHer would be twice as expensive to attend and would be so cost-prohibitive, most of us would not be able to go. I am grateful to the brands that recognize women bloggers as a powerful target audience and are willing to invest marketing dollars to spend time with us and learn what makes us tick so they can serve us better. And I’m grateful to BlogHer for seeking out those partners so we can enjoy a discounted room rate, wonderful food, and a venue that sits a few blocks away from Central Park in downtown New York City. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I’m still missing the offensive part.

Some folks left with scores of cool gifts and useful samples of products from generous sponsors. Good for them! I left with very little but only because I didn’t make it to some parties and had already over-packed so I opted out. I love the sandwich holder from Hillshire Farms and the tiny portable speakers from AOL and I toted my PUR water bottle around the entire time I was there (I bet I’m not the only one who grabbed an extra one). The BlogHer conference guide lists 100 sponsors including the likes of Pillsbury, Hallmark, P&G, Pepsico, Healthy Choice, Yahoo!, PayPal, Nikon, Sears, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson and many more. These are serious brands that spend millions researching their target demographic and spending millions more trying to reach them. Aren’t you glad those brands invested their money in BlogHer instead of a SuperBowl commercial? Help me out here because I still don’t get the offensive part.

Just so I don’t occur as one-sided, I’ll try to look at it from another perspective. Some say all the swag is wasteful and feeds the “free” frenzy. I’ve spent my career doing marketing for both large and small companies and have worked my share of trade shows. Product samples and promotional items are inventoried and arrive with their sponsors neatly packed and accounted for. Swag is only wasted when it is accepted and then gets left in the hotel room or thrown away when we get home. If that is the case, aren’t WE the ones actually responsible for the waste? As for the free part, I feel silly even addressing that one. Would you rather they charge for the swag?

Maybe it’s intrusive. Like when you get strip club flyers shoved in your hand outside the bar or get doused with some edgy scent called Mood or Jezebel by a leggy sales rep in the cosmetic isle. Seriously. Have you ever been treated with anything less than respect and genuine enthusiasm from a brand at BlogHer? These brands don’t ask for anything from us other than to be in our presence and if you stop and talk to them, you’ll learn they are doing some incredibly innovative things. They even have an entire expo hall reserved for sponsors that you have to intentionally walk into in order to interact with them. Still not finding the offensive part.

Maybe it’s political. Maybe it’s because the swag is plastic and not made of recycled paper, or the brand doesn’t give enough funding to early education programs in Uganda or they use red dye #2 on their label. Maybe they don’t employ enough senior citizens, or the logo looks too ethnic or the CEO made a bazillion dollars last year and has a yacht floating off the coast of some country with a US trade embargo. I am not making light of the political impact brands have on global affairs. I am making light of our offense to their free toothbrush.

Just because you don’t want to accept swag doesn’t mean the act of offering it should be criticized. Swag is a gift, not a patronizing assault on your intelligence as a target demographic. If you take it as such, I invite you to consider that you are over-thinking the whole concept. At the end of the day, swag is fun. They are presents and toys from people we don’t know and some of it just shows up in our rooms when we’re not there. Isn’t that what Santa Claus has been doing for centuries?


sam {temptingmama} said...

Yes, Yes, YES! Thank you!

The entitlement and all around doucheiness about the quality and quantity of swag totally gets under my skin. If you don't like it, don't take it. If it's thrust in your direction, politely say no thank-you if it's something you don't think you need.

The idea that swag is offensive boggles my mind! Be an adult and politely pass it up if you don't want it!

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Great post!

The Expo center is awesome because as you said, it is a CHOICE to attend it. I, for one, rambled through twice and was just not that interested this year in acquiring more crap to schlep home. I did NOT want to pay shipping and had to check my bag as it was since I had arrived with it mostly full of clothes and shoes. I found enough room for all of that chewing gum (?!), other doodads and some toys for my kids. That was more than enough swag for me.

KBO said...

You're right, it's not the swag itself that's offensive (well, the Paris Hilton perfume was offensive, but that's neither here nor there). It's when people start to operate from the paradigm that swag is the most important thing at the conference and the amount and/or quantity of swag one gets is somehow indicative of the quality of one's experience and/or blog. BlogHer needs sponsors, yes, absolutely. But we also can't lose sight of the fact that swag is not the point of the conference. It baffles me that people can find time for the expo hall but not time to attend sessions on writing.

jessica said...

I didn't find it offensive at all. It was up to me to take it or not take it. Period, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Personally, I have much bigger things to worry about right now, like paying my mortgage. Swag, smag, cag, not on my radar.

amy said...

well written.

Walking through the swag recycle room made me sad. I felt bad about all of the jimmy dean clocks - because you know they put a lot of thought into those and yet, they were not well received. But I felt worse about the swag items that were taken by us in the expo and then put in the recycle room. If you don't want it, don't take it.

There was a lot of fun swag. There were great connections made with lots of great blogger friendly companies. I am looking forward to trying many of the products I was gifted. I'm also looking forward to sharing it with friends and family that weren't there but could use a $10 bottle of lotion that right now might feel like an unnecessary splurge for them to buy. (sorry for the run on sentence).

LKP said...

k, i didn't attend. however i worked years in radio broadcasting, and from experience those who are offended by swag offend me!

swag is a gift. plain & simple. a kind, generous, investment in a person simply because a company wants to offer it. the investment comes with no obligation whatsoever.

people fail to remember that free to you does not mean it was free for the company. it took time, money, resources, & people to scrounge that stuff up. not to mention, make it attractive.

in radio, we ran around like chickens without our heads just trying to round up swag for every event. as a thank you to our loyal listeners...that's it. devotion to the client is what swag is. a thank you for your time.

offering swag is a nice gesture. accepting swag is an individual's choice, not a requirement!

from a marketing perspective, it's good business to offer swag. too easily we women/men judge books by their covers. it's true. we're all guilty. so why is it wrong for a company to want to give us a sampling of what they do, in hopes of changing misconceptions about their company & it's services? if someone were to spread a vicious, false rumor about me i would definitely & naturally resort to trying to convince the rumor's audience how incorrect that thinking is.

also, from the business perspective, women bloggers are the key demographic for MOST businesses. we hold the purse strings. we're the gatekeepers to our household's finances. we're the ones they had to woo in order to have a loyal brand-relationship. on top of that, on-average each woman knows approx. 200+ other people semi-intimately. as in, we regularly interact with 200 other people like us. if we can find value in a company & it's services, then the ripple effect starts with us and quickly spreads from there. swag leads to word-of-mouth. word-of-mouth is the most effective & priceless advertising there is. it's the holy grail of marketing. that's what these companies are hoping for; that their little thank-you for your time gift will turn into some positive word-of-mouth.

considering our role in free enterprise, i think we should be grateful for swag and quit cranking about it.

thanks for listening!

Unplanned Cooking said...

I'm with you! I don't get offended by swag - I think it's a cheap + easy way for companies to market to bloggers. If you don't like it, don't take it.

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Anonymous said...


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From Tracie said...

I didn't go to BlogHer (hopefully next year! *fingers crossed*) but I don't get people being offended by a free gift they don't have to take. Seems nothing short of crazy to me!

I'm sure that if I do get to go next year I will take a walk through the "swag room" I might end up with lots of stuff, and I might just want one or two things...but it will be my choice, and I'm sure it will be fun!

Anonymous said...

I did not attend blogher, but have been to my share of conferences. I believe that a lot that is in the bag may not be to my liking, but it IS a major way for the sponsors to get their exposure.
I do so appreciate when useful and innovative products are used!


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