I recently received a letter from a well-known “automobile association”, thanking me for being a member for the past twenty years. Just to be clear, the only reason I continue to be a member is this: about once a year, I need a jump-start, or I lock my keys in my car and need a locksmith, or I need a tow, or a friend needs a jump-start, locksmith or a tow. (Pro tip: you can utilize your membership benefits, even if its not your car, as long as you are a passenger in the vehicle.) The membership pays for itself with the money that I save.
The letter also informed me that, in appreciation for my 20 years of loyalty, I should stop by the nearest office and pick up my free license plate frame, informing every driver that is behind me that I was a 20 year+ member of the association. Ummmm, no thank you. What good does this license plate frame do for me? Is an attractive woman going to ask me out me on a date when they see it? Will it get me out of a speeding ticket? No, its just more marketing for the company. Consider this my first example of “bad swag”.
Second example: I received junk mail from an automobile insurance company (notice a trend here?) looking for me to switch my current automobile coverage to theirs. The envelope included a bumper sticker that plainly stated “PLEASE DON’T HIT ME! I am not 100% sure about my coverage”. To their credit, I was amused by the bumper sticker campaign, but did this company really expect me to put this ugly sticker on my bumper?
Many people in the AV industry think of trade shows when they hear the word “swag”. Most booths offer some form of it: pens, reusable grocery bags, magnets, t-shirts, candy, paperweights, key chains, flashlights, headlamps, miniature screwdrivers, and plenty of those little foam things that you are supposed to squeeze when you are stressed. I remember one booth had flying monkey toys that you could launch across the room. 99% of these promotional items have a company logo and/or marketing tagline printed on them. Some items become “gifts” for the kids once the attendee gets home from the trip.
Aside from the pens and reusable grocery bags, most of the swag you get is garbage. I keep a few of the foam-stress-relief-thingees around my desk, and squeeze them periodically to exercise my hands and fingers, helping to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I don’t ever remember being stressed out, squeezing one for a minute, and then feeling less stressed.
What blows my mind is how much money is wasted on this bad swag! Not to mention the hours spent by marketing departments and/or company owners to “design” this crap: the t-shirts in awful colors chosen to match the company’s logo, covered in industry-related marketing taglines, or sometimes even images of the products. Who on earth would wear these outside of mowing the lawn, changing your oil, or sealing the driveway? There is one group who is happy to get these shirts: homeless people. I love it when I see a homeless person wearing a promotional t-shirt, because it means the shirt is being used, not just thrown away. Probably not what the marketing team had in mind, but hey, at least the catchy tagline created by the marketing guru is actually being read by someone, right?
As much as I am a sucker for free stuff, I do my best to avoid accepting this bad swag; although sometimes, I can’t say no, because its mailed directly to me (“Enjoy your lapel pin…”.) As a waste-conscious citizen, I seriously don’t know if I should toss it, recycle it, donate it, or spend the money to ship it back to them, with a note saying, “WTF were you thinking? You just wasted time and money on something no one will ever use!”
Occasionally, someone gets it right. For example, one manufacturer’s rep I know quietly hands out $10 Starbucks gift cards to people who engage her at the trade show booth. These gift cards have no tag lines, no logos (other than the Starbucks logo). I have not seen her in years, only because I have not attended those same trade shows. And yet I specifically remember her giving me that gift card, as well as the company she represents.
Other companies have sponsored outings like dinner cruises, baseball games, even paintball. Those were very fun, very memorable times, and I was able to share the experience with coworkers and loved ones. And just like the Starbucks card, I remember exactly what company sponsored those events, as well as the people representing them.
So please, marketing gurus, take note: the next time you are about to “pull the trigger” on your latest sky-blue or lime-green t-shirt, the one with your latest tagline on the front and your logo on the sleeve, think to yourself: Would I actually wear this? Would anyone I know actually wear this? What is this costing my company? And would we be better off just handing out gift cards, or even the cash equivalent? Now THAT would be memorable!