Sunday, September 06, 2009

The thing about swag

Since BlogHer '09 happened, about six weeks ago, there's been a mini-debate about an age-old marketing tool: Swag, IOW: Stuff We All Get.

This is a somewhat lengthy post, but I urge you to read it all, if only to read about some shocking "swag" given out at ComicCon this year.

Back to BlogHer: There was a lot of swag at the conference. Some folks were bothered by the quantity. Some folks were bothered by how the availability of swag changed the quality of some attendees' behavior. Some folks maintained a "different strokes for different folks" attitude and urged people to Just Say No to swag if it bothered them. Some folks started making gross generalizations about the kind of people who might like swag. Some folks, having clearly never attended other trade shows in other industries, thought the swag availability and ensuing pursuit of said swag was unique to bloggers. Or women. Or mommies. Some folks who didn't witness any swag pandemonium or weren't even at the conference had a lot of fun talking about it and, even better, waxing judgmental about it. Some folks expressed genuine concern about waste and our consumerist society. There are lots of ideas about how to better manage swag for next year's conference, including some great ideas about how to make sure it's all as opt-in as possible. You can see a lot of debate about the issue on our post-conference post soliciting feedback on the swag issue and other issues. You can add your own thoughts there too. We take the issue seriously, and we added several question about swag to the post-conference attendee survey too. We think we can make improvements, and we intend to.

But here's the thing about swag and why most companies are always going to want to give some and, let's be totally honest, most attendees are always want to get some: It works. I could go into a long dissertation about it, but Amy from Pretty Babies pretty much already did in this post. You should read it. She brings up everything from business practices to classism. She's smart.

I'm going to tell one personal story about how swag best does its job.

When I as growing up, my siblings and I each started doing our own laundry at a fairly young age. I used laundry detergent. And I used dryer sheets. I honestly don't know if my mom didn't believe in bleach, fabric softener, stain remover and the like, or if she had that stuff, but I was too young (and probably lazy) to mess with it when I started doing my own laundry. Either way...I have done my own laundry for almost 40 years and have stuck to buying only laundry detergent and dryer sheets.

I confess I even had a cynical attitude towards other products. With no scientific back-up I had the attitude that stain remover, as an example, was simply re-packaged detergent. I don't know why I thought this. I never tried it.

Until, after BlogHer, when I used a sample of a stain remover given by one of our laundry sponsors. The product was biodegradable and cruelty-free, so it met my basic requirements for such a product. I decided to give it a shot on a grease stain that had been on one of my black tops for ages. I kept wearing that top, thinking the black on black stain was probably not very visible to other people, but I was always a little self-conscious about it.

I tried the stain remover, and it removed the stain.

Maybe, to some of you, this is not a revelatory statement.

But I can tell you this one item of swag will change an over-20-year pattern of purchasing habits, which is exactly what that company is hoping for. Sounds extreme, and maybe it is, but in the post-conference survey we found plenty of similar experiences expressed.

Is there such a thing as crappy, useless swag? Oh absolutely. But uselessness is also in the eye of the beholder. Long ago I stopped picking up t-shirts at trade shows. I have a stack of industry t-shirts (from three different industries) about three feet high. I don't need another t-shirt in my life. I don't even wear them that often. But TW from Retro Food has often blogged that her day-to-day wardrobe is made up of such t-shirts, so she's always on the hunt for more. I love picking up notebooks. I actually use a notebook in my day to day work. I have tons of them. I know lots of people who think they're a waste of paper and a waste of time. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

So, while we continue to mull the meaning of swag, I continue to believe that, as with most things, it's about how you do something more than whether you do something.

Bonus Conclusion: The promised "shocking swag" story. And i think I can promise this will not be how BlogHer does things:

According to Joystiq, EA was there promoting a new game. They had the usual set-up in their booth where you could take a picture with a hot booth babe. According to their promotion it looks like the girls were going to be in bikinis, but who knows, that could have been false advertising. (Where's the FTC when you need them, eh?) Tweeting your picture with the hot booth babe (and "committing acts of lust" by finding other hot babes to take pictures with and tweeting those) would enter you in a contest to win:

"Dinner and a SINful night with TWO hot girls..." plus a limo ride and other "booty". Pun intended I'm sure.

This promotion takes the unpleasant "swag whore" moniker a little too literally for my taste, how about you?

This happened at Comic-Con, which was the same weekend as BlogHer this year. While you can find some blog posts abut this controversy in gamer blogs, I only found one mainstream outlet's blog that picked it up. And certainly no hand-wringing mainstream media reports about the moral state of gamers today because of this promotion.

Susan Getgood may be right that the mainstream media has "mommy issues".

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I think this is one of my favourite post-BlogHer articles about swag and the ensuing discussion about said swag. Thank you for the level approach.
Wow, Schmutzie, considering the flood of such articles, I'm pretty proud to hear you say that! Thanks. :)
Yay! for smart posts by smart women.

Boo! on swag haters and stealers and general bad behavior, whether it be ComiCon or BlogHer attendees.

And I agree about the purpose of swag as you stated -- I've long been against Bounce Outdoor Fresh scent, and I was heartily confirmed in my loathing because of their free dryer bar swag.

However, I have found out about cool new products both years I have attended BlogHer and readily integrated them into my life.

Swag certainly has a purpose, and group think/mob mentality, unfortunately, will always be a reality.
I love swag. As in, really love it. And I don't care what people think of me for that.

I was appalled that people screamed at hard working volunteers over swag bags, that the crock guy got extorted over a pair of shoes (REALLY?!) and that people almost elbowed a baby over it. That has much more to do with bad behavior of a human then it does about swag, IMO.

And my own personal laundry product story?

It's always a strain to get to BlogHer for me because I have to pay for it on my own. As a SAHM, this takes a lot of budget juggling. This year I could NOT have gone without volunteering and the generosity of a lot of people.

My roomies let me have all the Bounce swag and I took it home grateful that I wouldn't have to buy fabric softener for the next year.

One less thing, you know?

My thought reading some of the snootier posts on this subject was that a lot of them came off as tacky as the thing they were complaining about.
Oops. "Croc" is without a "k", huh?
Those who behaved shoddily over the swag are not typical BlogHer women. They were the exception to the rule, for most of us are grateful, appreciative, and enthusiastic over the swag. If we didn't want something, we didn't take it. We shared or donated our extras, or things that weren't to our taste or lifestyle. Nice people don't leave home for a weekend and behave like greedy, obsessed, drunken prom princesses in a hotel, or elbow babies in the eye. The REAL BlogHer women are ashamed of the posers.

Not that we didn't have a great time, mind you. Heh. But no babies or rain forests were injured by the real BlogHer women.

We have class. We don't act like ass.

Well, most of them are a lot classier than I am, but maybe you get the general idea?

P.S. Those Bounce dryer things that stick to the drum? Those are bloody AWESOME! THANK YOU, Bounce.
Thanks for the comments everyone.

I think that:

1. Vdog, sounds like you should send your dryer bar to Mamacita! LOL.

2. Loralee, you are right that some of the criticism of people who appreciate swag made me more uncomfortable than people appreciating swag. I also didn't like rumblings I heard that the BlogHer's low ticket price made it so that "just anyone" could go. Just like "just anyone" can start a blog. Well. Yeah. Kinda the point, you know?

3. Mamacita, what I'd still like to know is how prevalent the bad behavior was. I heard few actual eyewitness stories, and lots of hearsay. I have asked a few times to get some quantification, but I don't think most people can provide any. I'd even like to know how many of the sponsored bloggers that people complained about were complaint-worthy. Most people, if pressed, seemed to have one bad experience that really colored their opinion.

Thanks for continuing the conversation!
Interesting… I might try some of this on my blog, too. It’s quite interesting how you sometimes stop being innovative and just go for an accepted solution without actually trying to improve it… you make a couple of good points.
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