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Will SWAG Get Great PR For Your New Product?

Swagapalooza organizer Alex Krupp, who wants to "democratize" public relations, clearly believes in the power of swag, His event, held last Thursday at Touch in Manhattan, gathered "85 of the most-followed bloggers and tweeters in NYC" to learn about new consumer products from startups. I was invited and went (who can resist being called influential?). Of course, there was a swag bag (the contents of which are pictured here, in compliance with the new FTC rules for bloggers, which seem to imply that my good word can be bought for the price of, say, a screaming flying monkey). It was a fun night, with a keynote by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian;then nine companies gave five-minute presentations about their new products. Honestly, it wasn't so much about the swag as the people and the companies behind the products, all of which I thought were pretty cool. So here's who was there, along with my completely off the cuff, unscientific, one-to-five rating of their products' marketability.
WakeMate. This nifty device is a wrist band that you wear while you're sleeping. It syncs up with a mobile application that monitors your circadian rhythms, and then tells your phone to wake you at the appropriate time in your REM cycle so that you rise refreshed. As the wife and mother of problem sleepers, I love this idea. Problem is, the app is still in the process of Apple certification and customers who pre-ordered the device are getting restless and a little nasty (I know this from the company's website, not from the presentation). It's a poorly handled launch, to be sure, so WakeMate had better be worth waiting for. Fingers crossed. Rating: 3 (for now)

Bacon Hot Sauce. Exactly what it sounds like - hot sauce with a smoky bacon flavor (but with no bacon in it), invented by three hung-over friends who couldn't agree on whether it's bacon or hot sauce that makes everything taste better. The product is their compromise. Although there are a gazillion hot sauces on the market, I like the branding on this one - a fire-breathing pig with steaming ears. Check out the t-shirt on their web site. Rating: 3/5

NurturMe. I wish this product had been around when my kids were babies. It's quick-dried baby food in packets than can be mixed with water, breast milk, or formula - super convenient. But the branding and messaging on this one needs work. Their tag line is "straight from the soil to their spoon." Well, gosh, I certainly hope not! And the packaging just doesn't say "baby food" to me, which is going to be a problem on supermarket shelves. Rating: 3 (but I'd love to be proven wrong)

BreakOutBand. This web-based company provides a social music experience for teens, allowing them to form virtual bands with their friends, create original songs, and share them on Facebook. Kids compete to get their songs to the top of the charts. As a mom, I hate to think that stuff like this will replace good old fashioned piano lessons. As a business blogger, I know full well this has great potential. Plus, the company was chosen as one of the PepsiCo10, which I'll tell you about in another post. Rating: 5

HelloRewind. Send your best-loved but worn out t-shirt to this company and they'll turn it into a padded laptop sleeve that's produced by foreign sex trafficking survivors in the United States. HelloRewind provides these women with employment, language skills, and vocational training. This one has it all, folks: social mission, an upcycling/environmental spin, and a mass customization element. What's not to love? Get a celeb or two seen with one of these sleeves and this company will take off. Rating: 4.5

PicWing. You store your photos on iPhoto and Flickr, but your parents and grandparents can't always be expected to hop on the digital bandwagon. A subscription to PicWing lets you email your digital photos to the company and queue them to be printed out and sent every two weeks to the Luddites in your life. Grandma will love you for it. I like this idea but it seems to me that both the company's market and its lifespan are limited. Rating: 3.5

HoboHookah. By far, this was the most popular product of the evening (what a surprise!). The founders, hookah smokers who felt that their beloved hookahs were too cumbersome and fragile to carry around to parties, invented a devise that turns almost any empty bottle into a hookah. Made of aircraft-grade materials, dishwasher safe and, quips the founder, "ladies, this fits in your larger purses." The crowd went wild and, lacking any other perspective, I base my rating on this reaction, tempered slightly by my deep-seated hatred of the tobacco industry. Rating: 4

Mirth in a Box. Is there really room for another company in the gift basket/box industry? Well, if the gift box contains a remote control fart machine, a screaming flying monkey, a squirting calculator, and a stress wiener, then I say bring it on. This beats a basket of apples and some fancy olive oil any day, as far as I'm concerned. Caveat: the founder needs to beef up her systems to accommodate customization before she really gets cracking. Rating: 4

Note to the FTC: I also received one Corona, a very cold piece of cheese pizza, some crackers and salsa, and two gingersnap cookies. In addition, I scored a free download of Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age by Douglas Rushkoff, which I haven't yet received. And I took a free HoboHookah when I was caught up in the moment and then gave it away at the event after I calmed down and thought better of it. Heady stuff, this Swagapalooza.

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