Sweet Swag: Lessons From $85,000 Gift Bags at the Academy Awards

Last Updated Mar 23, 2010 11:14 AM EDT

If you've been to business conferences and expos you are well aware of the "tschotsky bag." Usually given free to attendees, the bag includes brochures and small gifts, or tschotskies, provided by vendors and exhibitors.

Their hope: You will recall the company fondly as you power up their key chain flashlight during a stormy night or write like Hemingway with their three-color pen.

The reality: You hate the company when the gift crumbles during first use, leaving nothing in your hand but the company logo.
The best goodie bag, bar none, is given away at the Academy Awards. At this just-past gala, the bag's contents were valued at $85,000 (yes, 85 thousand) and included:

  • Limited edition (125 in existence) luxury Leather Travel Bag from Victorinox. Value: $4,000.
  • Exclusive use of an African Safari Lodge in South Africa for up to 8 adults and 8 kids. Value: $45,000.
  • A photograph of your dog shot at a professional studio.
  • A year's supply of Altoids Smalls.
  • La Peau Couture Organic Wrinkle Diminishing Serum ($500/jar).
Now that is some sticky swag.

But here is an interesting takeaway. For an investment of about $20 per recipient, Altoid bought itself incalculable publicity, and was mentioned next to some of the hottest brands around including MILLIANNA Jewelry, WooLoot watches and the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

The fact is, most gift bags are full of crap, so if you invest just a little in something of quality, it will shine above the rest of the giveaways. Just make sure your gift has a good tie in or association with your product in someway.

HBR.org blogger Alexandra Samuel makes a similar point writing about the swag bag she received at the recent South by Southwest conference. For her to notice a tschotsky, she says, it must provide some sort of value after the conference is over.

"If it's a post-card, put reference information on it. If it's a product promo, give me a discount offer. And don't waste resources. If you can put it on the Internet, I'll get it there."
What's the best or worst swag you've ever pulled from a conference goodie bag?

(WooLoot watches image courtesy WooLoot)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.