The awkwardness of swag

First, I know this is a terribly first world problem, and a first blogger world problem at that. I do realize that there are terrible things in the world today, especially on the Gulf Coast, near my hometown (oh, Ship Island, my heart hurts for you). I realize that people are sick and dying of cancer (1500 Americans a day) and other illnesses, and that we who have the luxury of blogging are the luckiest of the luckiest … but I simply must say something about swag.

Yes, swag. The “stuff we all get” at celebrity events as fancy as the Oscars and as homegrown as a blogger conference.  I get the point. I know that if companies encourage us to try their products, we’re likely to write about them, and they get huge “word of mouth” or “return on investment.” I get it. I do.  And I won’t go so far as to say I don’t like swag. I do! Who doesn’t? For me, I don’t get out much, so it’s my chance to finally try a Georgetown Cupcake, to learn about Bitdefender‘s antivirus package, or to see just how small the new iGo charger is (see what I did there? I’m not anti-swag).

But here’s the thing. I can’t carry it all. I’m starting to feel like a packhorse at these blogger meetups, and it’s counterproductive.  We have these blogger events to cement these relationships that we all have, and to make connections with each other, blogger to blogger at Momzshare, and brand to blogger, blogger to brand at events like SVMom’s D.C. Metro Brand/Blogger Symposium yesterday.  But if it really is all about relationships, then shouldn’t we be spending our time talking to each other?

Shouldn’t we be encouraged to spend our time talking to the vendors and talking with each other, making new connections or really catching up, rather than carrying around four or five big bags of stuff, which forces the conversations to the shallow end, as we ask each other how we’re holding up, or how we’ll possibly get all this home?  Shouldn’t the moms who are carrying babies, already laden down and with a body possibly stressed by nursing, not have to worry about also carrying bags of stuff?  Can’t they be full participants by simply talking, perhaps picking up a coupon or card, but not also worried about juggling the blue bag and the white bag and the red bag and the cream bag and the … well, I think you get my point.

If this sounds ungrateful (and it may), I’m sorry.  But here’s the thing.  I have a disability.  Because of all my treatment, and the giant (7 pound!) tumor I had in my breasts a few years ago, I have a great deal of trouble with my back.  I can’t open heavy doors by myself, or carry a purse that is more than 3 pounds.  I simply can’t.  If I do, my ribs pull out from behind my spine and I’m in a great deal of pain.  For days.  Those sleeves you see on my arms and hands?  Those are necessary to control my lymphedema.  If I carry more than a small purse, hang out outside in the summer, or even stand too close to a hot stove, my arms swell up like balloons, and I have to go back into lymphedema therapy.  For weeks.  So I protect my body, use push buttons for heavy doors (or wait for someone else to open them), and say no to events that I think will stress it.

I took steps to manage my disability yesterday.  I tried not to complain.  I smiled sweetly and said thank  you (as I know that marketing metrics include how many bags of swag are given away), and then walked back to a booth I had called my home base, depositing the box or bag behind a curtain, with the gracious permission of the Lawry’s seasoning folks.  But I know it wasn’t just me.  I know that other blogging mamas struggled, dumping their swag in various spots around the room, too, and it became an issue.  It became an issue for moms with babies, moms with bad backs, and moms who wanted to build relationships, without having to worry about where they left their stuff.

There are other events coming up, particularly at BlogHer 10, that will face the same problem, and they will decide to handle it in different ways.  Last year, the Blogalicious party organizers really made a good impression on me, as they encouraged us to talk to each other, to experience the brand (Lush), and to have a good time.  The swag wasn’t brought out until the end, as we were leaving, and it was a nice surprise.  The experience was about the experience.

In contrast, other parties had limited amounts of swag, tweeting and blogging and teasing about the fantastic swag (misnamed, if you ask me) that would be there for the first 50, 100, or 200 people, and that you better get there early to get their stuff.  What happened at these events?  People lined up early, as they were told, to get their stuff.  They stood in line instead of building solid relationships and planning partnerships around a table.  They angled to be one of the first, to get the goody bags, some of which had $500 and up of product for a select few.  Guests were encouraged in a “me first” mentality … and with predictable results.

How do we create a good atmosphere for brands without overloading the bloggers?  Not everyone will agree, but here are three suggestions to consider:  1) Bring coupons if you want us to try your product at home and write about it.  That totally worked for Trop50 and Ragu last year.  2) Put your product in the big bag that we all get at registration.  3) If you bring product to an event, and it truly is swag, stuff we all get, then let us pick it up as we’re leaving, so we can spend our time at the party building relationships.

When you make it all about swag, it becomes all about … swag.

Disclosure: All the brands mentioned in this post were sponsors of the respective parties, and sent me home with free samples of various kinds.  Oh, and my friend Jessica carried them home for me.


55 Responses to The awkwardness of swag

  1. Amanda says:

    Well put. 1-800-flowers gave me a $50 gift card last year at BlogHer. It was the most memorable and enjoyable thing I received because it was done in a way that didn’t encumber me at the conference or on my way home. After, when I’d digested the experience, I used it and was oh so grateful. I loved the site, the recipient loved the flowers and it positively colored my opinion of them.

    • whymommy says:

      Exactly — they made it useful, not inconvenient, for you, and here you are mentioning them 10 months later. Nicely done!

  2. caramamma says:

    You are absolutely right! I did not have a child in tow or any issues carrying everything, but I felt like a wide load as I maneuvered in and out of spaces. 🙂 This was my first “event” and although I found it incredibly interesting to meet all the brands and participate in the discussions, there was not alot of just chatting time. I guess that means that we all have to try to carve out our own times to get together…

    • whymommy says:

      True, but time is so short — and seeing YOU all is the reason I go to these events! For instance, I went yesterday because I love & respect the blogger who invited me. It seemed like a great time to get together with everyone, and it was — but it could have been even better, is all that I’m saying.

      This kind of thing is a factor in how I plan my time. At BlogHer, for example, I’m not signing up for the big swag party — because it left a bad taste in my mouth last year, and because I couldn’t carry the swag even if I went!

      Wish we’d gotten to talk more than just at the end yesterday — I was so tired at that point, but it was great to meet you!

  3. This may seem like a small analogy, but I refuse to offer goody bags at my kids’ birthday parties. I feel it makes it even more about the stuff and less about having fun at the party (I even made the last one a no-gift party, but my girls might never forgive me for it). I think any time we can reduce stuff and increase real experience, then we should.

    Nice post.

    • whymommy says:

      Good point, Sally! I do the same thing, although I did something fun last year that straddled both sides. We threw a Sid the Science Kid party where the kids all used magnifying glasses to write their observations (of things they found outdoors) in a little notebook, and I sent each kid home with a magnifying glass, pencil, and notebook. I was happy, they were happy, and I got science tools into the hands of kids.

  4. Laurie says:

    That was why I liked the Melting Pot event. A lot of time to talk and the people who worked there were nicely integrated without a lot of fuss.

    To me, aside from a few cool things that I don’t know I’ll like until I get them, most swag (I don’t even like the word, honestly, it grates on me) is nothing I’d have sought out and I end up leaving it behind or recycling it. Or, because most of it still, at the events I go to, is kid-centered, I end up giving it to friends with kids.

    I had a moment last year at Blogher at the first party (not BlogHer affiliated, btw) where I got closed out even though I’d rsvp’d and was irrationally annoyed that I didn’t get the big old gift basket. I didn’t like that I was so annoyed about stuff that I probably didn’t need, that I’d hadn’t known about until an hour before. I try to keep that in mind when I think about this topic because I don’t like to be caught up in stuff but it is so, so easy.

    I will always take drink tickets, however. 😉

    I’m glad you went and had fun — and of course Jess is always an excellent friend to have around.

    • whymommy says:

      It is so easy, isn’t it? The same thing happened to me at that party you mention, and there were so many people disgruntled there and later that it totally colored my perception of the event. I didn’t have a good time (because of the inequalities created in the distribution of the swag, not the swag itself), and I don’t expect to go this year.

      Sad, really.

  5. Anyone ever hear of shipping stuff to a blogger as a follow up? Or ahead of time, so we could try out the product and then discuss it with them at the event?

    Just some other ideas. So great to see you yesterday!!! Love my DCMMs!!

  6. magpie says:

    Right – coupons! Or shipping later. There were good (though few) examples of both at BlogHer last year.

    • whymommy says:

      There sure were. And you know, I’ve never been big on product, especially on this blog as it’s not my niche, but when companies do it right, it sure gets noticed.

  7. sutari says:

    OK, maybe I am just stupid here…. but can’t you just say, “no thanks”.

    Because in this day and age, just “leaving your bag somewhere” is a really, really bad idea (unless, as yours was, it was behind the curtain and “spoken for” by someone nearby).

    Maybe you need to get Radio Flyer to come to these things – and give everyone a wagon as they enter!

    • whymommy says:

      You can — but in my understanding, that messes things up for them, as then they have to record that people turned down free product. And ship it home. Neither makes them look good to their bosses — who may be skeptical of social media to begin with — NOT the message we want to send!

  8. planetnomad says:

    Sigh…I love free items. I wish I could go to blogging conferences 😦 Oh well–I did get to visit a Moroccan medina the other day. There are always trade-offs in life, aren’t there?

  9. allison says:

    A lot of really good observations here. When somebody hands me a bag of ‘free stuff’ I can’t help a small, knee-jerk reaction similar to a little kid being handed a loot bag (ooh! free stuff!) which is why I can’t bring myself to discontinue loot bags, although I try to think outside the box (bag). But you’re right — it can definitely overpower what should be a differently-focused experience

    • whymommy says:

      I think many in our community are a little gun-shy about this now – I know it’s affecting what I sign up for at BlogHer. Is it going to change your experience?

  10. I’m just so new to this whole thing, that I’m still just forming my own opinions from these brand new experiences. It’s interesting to read others’ takes on it!

    It was lovely meeting you yesterday, and especially getting the full story on the grant proposal stuff that’s been tweeted about so much. Best of luck!

    • whymommy says:

      It was great to meet you, too, and learn the whole story behind your nickname! I wish I’d talked to you more — maybe at the next Momzshare event?

  11. JavaMom says:

    One note about coupons — make sure they don’t expire a week after the conference — sometimes we don’t even get a chance to go through everything that fast. When we come home from something like BlogHer, we are re-immersing into the world of little kids, unanswered emails, etc. It takes time to go through all that’s been thrown at us and go back an redeem such things. And when people are flying somewhere, realize we can’t fly home with certain items — they get confiscated (jars/bottles of liquids — shampoos, foods, etc.)

    I will admit I often like swag, especially if it is truly relevant and useful and I will share the good news with readers and friends, but any time a company makes it easier to take home, I notice that as well. Three cheers for the companies using cloth bags though! That’s a nice improvement!

    All your points about swag overtaking conversation, the strain it puts on us (literally) even those of us who DON’T have babies or disabilities are valid.

    It’s a hard balance for the marketeers — they want the “stuff” there to create a splash. We sometimes find it hard to literally handle it all.

    • whymommy says:

      Exactly! And here again, local events are different from national events — Lawry’s marinades were an appropriate (if heavy!) take-home from a local event, but if they promote products like that at BlogHer, I’m hoping for a coupon.

  12. The swag was so heavy one of my swag bags burst at the seams! I don’t mind the swag since I am primarily a product review blogger. By handing me the iGO_Green phone charger, the company is saving on shipping the product to me. If I like a product/the products works for our family, I will blog about it.

    • whymommy says:

      Totally! But the iGo was light and self-contained, and is so cool that we’re bound to blog about how it helps us blog on the go. It’s also directly related to the product, as it IS the product.

      Not like, say, a blown up beach ball in a tote bag, given out by a company that doesn’t sell beach balls.

  13. Neil says:

    I never really thought about this issue in this way, and you are absolutely right. The swag can get in the way — not in some metaphysical or anti-consumer society way — but in a practical sense. I don’t have the issues you have, and I’m also very inconvenienced by having to carry so many bags. Where do I put the bags? What if I forget them? Do I need to go up to my room afterwards to store the bags? How much of this stuff do I really need? I remember at BlogHer spend the last night, going through all the swag and coupons, decided what I should take home with me.

    Of course, all of this swag is great, and adds to the fun, but you also don’t want to remember lugging around the shopping bags more than the conversations!

    • whymommy says:

      Neil, how is it that I didn’t even meet you (I think) at BlogHer 2009??? I hope that the stars align and everybody is healthy enough for us both to be there this year!

  14. Thien-Kim says:

    I agree. It was a bit cumbersome since I was juggling the baby. Luckily I was able to stash my bags behind a table also.

    it was great to see you and other DCMM bloggers though!

  15. Ruthie from California says:

    Wow….I am not even a blogger (I read blogs, though), yet I can relate to many of the things that have been said. I say relationship before swag! I was pierced and convicted by the “me-first” comment, as I can see myself in that, though I had never before thought that getting in line early for an event so that I can get the promised “goodie” is feeding that sick desire. May I slay that need and never project materialistic narcissism. I suggest boycotting the swag at the next event and make your voices be heard with your non-wide load swagger as you gracefully and nimbly flit around unencumbered and build relationship with all those who lift you up and fill your days with encouragement and meaning. Life IS about relationship…..not about stuff.

  16. sometimes I feel the same way with events. How many events can I possibly attend? And while I’m honored to be invited and love going…it can be a lot of travel too.

  17. As I understood it, this event wasn’t supposed to have oodles of swag. It was designed to have ONE bag of swag per person. That’s it. No more. I don’t know why every vendor had swag at their table. I can only speak for myself and I was under the impression only one bag of swag would be distributed to each attendee and the procedure was that ONE bag would be given to the attendees at the end of the event when they checked out and showed their punch card had been completed. This would indicate they had SPOKEN with each vendor, not that they had gotten swag from each vendor. Again, the other bags of swag weren’t ever on my radar for this event. Only The ONE bag.

    Susan, I feel awful that you feel awful. I also hope my brief explanation is at least an emotional comfort. Had I realized you were in physical pain at the event, I would have come and sat with you, rubbed your feet, fed you cupcakes…

    And regarding BlogHer last year, while Ragu did okay with the coupons at BlogHer, I won’t buy their products ever again. I was horrified Ragu constructed an 8 foot bottle of spaghetti sauce out of fresh vegetables. All I could think when I saw it was “What a waste of food. So many families could have been fed with those vegetables.”

    The beautiful thing about blogging is we all get to share our perspective and comments. I’m not upset with Susan for expressing her opinion about the swag, I only wanted to clear up any possible misconception that the event had been planned around swag, because it hadn’t.

    • whymommy says:

      Thanks, Devra. I hesitated to even put this out there, as I know everyone meant well, and it was an amazing event.

      But when I asked if I could leave my (first!) bag of swag at the registration desk or pick it up later, I was told in no uncertain terms that I would need it, as every vendor would be handing things out and it could be tough to carry without the bag.

      I did try to leave it there anyway, but they were right, it was difficult to juggle boxes and such and still be able to greet the vendors appropriately, so I took the bag with me until I just couldn’t carry it.

      Wow, what a nice problem to have, huh?

      Probably should have just kept my mouth shut.

      • No, you should not have kept your mouth shut. Absolutely not! However I would be lying if I didn’t say I wish you had said something to me at the event so I could have shared with you then,what I am sharing here now. Because if that had happened, maybe the event could have been handled differently and the issues you raised,would have been addressed. While it’s true, we probably would not have been able to get rid of the swag at that point, we might have been able to speak to vendors about shipping options, or emailing discount codes, etc. As for what happened at the registration desk, I am truly sorry no one offered an alternative plan. In my world there is always another option and again, had I known about the issue, I would have found another direction that would have worked for you, or anyone else who needed to put stuff down, store their bags, or needed to get things to their car, or have it boxed and shipped etc. I had no idea bags were being given out at the beginning of the event at the registration table, nor did I know about the “trick or treating” at the vendor tables. It’s clear to me communication failed somewhere along the way among those of us planning the event, and I am very sorry anyone came away from the event feeling overloaded, stressed or exhausted due to copious amounts of swag. I’d much rather have people feel exhausted from the fabulous conversations, full from the food and happy they got an opportunity to hang out with friend and network with bloggers and companies.

        As this was the first time we’ve had this event in DC, all feedback is good feedback, even if it isn’t positive. How else can an event improve otherwise? If everyone just said “Oh it was great!” what lesson can we learn from that kind of feedback? Nada. I am interested in the good, the bad and the ugly.
        : )

  18. Two words: helper monkey.

  19. clifford says:

    Go to an IT conference with me, Sus…you will SEE the very unholy carnal depths of schwag saturation. Run as you might from the XL-only tee-waving neon-pen-chucking personalized luggage tag-creating ONE FLIP-FLOP AT A TIME GIVING-OUTING (props, Sun. gotta give credit where credit is due.) vendor reps, they will catch you. Because they are skinny and they actually know where the exits are.

  20. Stimey says:

    I am all over that helper monkey idea.

    This is a great post, it really is. There are so many things that get overlooked by companies trying to get the word out. Disability is so often overlooked, especially invisible (or almost invisible) disability.

    It is so easy to get caught up in the STUFF, because the stuff is fun. There is some stuff that I am so delighted to have gotten yesterday. There was some stuff that I would have happily left behind. It being a brand/blogger event, I kind of expected the commercialism, but hadn’t thought ahead of time about how the stuff was to be handed out.

    I definitely agree that events like BlogHer and birthday parties are so much better than coming home with swag. Yeah, I like it, but I’d be okay if I came home with nothing because the people at these events are incredible.

    The women in those rooms yesterday blow me away every single time I come in contact with them. Amazing.

  21. I would like to nominate myself as Susan’s future helper monkey.

    Just don’t make me wear that silly red vest and hat, k!?

  22. Thank you for speaking up about this! Everything you wrote was spot-on. As someone who knows you will try and carry more than you should when it helps others feel more comfortable, the carrying around items was a perfect storm.

    Because you can’t say no to a generous, hardworking brand representative at an event who is giving her Sunday evening to reach out to a bunch of mom representatives. You want to validate her work and her product and help her feel included in the event. (I have seen you in action.) And at the event, validating another’s work meant accepting from them a sometimes heavy parcel.

    Yup, it’s a first world complaint, too much free stuff to carry around. But the logistics problems you’re talking about happen the world round:

    making a real, not a gimme, connection in person

    And as we saw those beautiful babies allow all the other mamas at the event to hold them throughout the day, and friends of the nursing moms helped them home from the event (fun fact: Stimey tweeted that Thien-Kim and Jaxson needed a milk stop and were nursing by the Potomac), that wasn’t first world. That was just women together as it is all over the world.

    Thanks for speaking out about this. And thanks for being in my village. I’ll help tote your water basket home on my head (or in my filthy minivan) anytime.

  23. Linda says:

    Perfectly said. I would much rather take photos with friends (i have some cute ones of you at momz share on my flickr than leave with stuff. And truly I think if the swag went away, we’d still attend and still talk about the fun times.

  24. D'Lyn Biggs says:

    My Honey shared a funny story with me after a conference in China. Here they were, huge booth decked out, great give-aways, talking to everyone who came by. Who do their customers remember? The competitor that didn’t even have a booth, but strategically placed a huge banner over the entrance to the men’s restroom.

  25. I love your perspective because it’s not the same as mine and what’s the point of the blogosphere if it’s not for opening up my mind and the world?

    I haven’t been to BlogHer so this was my first swag-fest. I’m still digesting it all. But you have a story to tell about it and I’m glad you did. Because as we figure out all this brand and blog stuff, those are things we need to think about.

    And? I have to say, I would totally be a packmule for Georgetown Cupcakes, BUT, all the bags almost made me SPILL MY WINE. So I found a corner to park all my stuff too.

    More conversation time would have been fabulous too. Since I didn’t even get to say more than Hi to you.

  26. Miss Britt says:

    Personally, I LOVED the room drops last year, but some people complained about that, too.

    Don’t you have the option of just not taking a swag bag? I don’t understand the idea that this stuff is forced upon us – I mean, we can say no. Sure, you might worry about some other company’s marketing metrics – but isn’t that YOU putting their marketing metrics above your health? It kind of sounds like what you’re saying in this post is “please stop giving me so much stuff because I don’t like having to say no.”

    • Susan says:

      And so I apologized the next day. I’m withdrawing my RSVP from some BlogHer parties where this may be an isse, and I’ll learn to say no. You make good points, and I understand this is a nice problem to have. But the room was unbelievably weird on Sunday with everyone carrying around so much stuff!

      • Miss Britt says:

        I actually saw your next post after and was like “oh crap, she’s going to take that WAY harsher than I intended I bet because she seems sad right now.”

        I guess the most important thing I wanted to say is – your health is way more important than anyone thinking your rude. Everyone will understand. Honest.

        And imagine that said in a very nice, encouraging tone. 🙂

  27. Miss Britt says:

    you’re rude

    you ARE rude

    I mean – you aren’t, but, if you WERE, it would be said “you’re rude” and not “your rude”.


  28. About birthday parties… I have hosted many. My all-time best party favors are the single items. I gave each child a hula hoop one year. Party favor and party game rolled in to one.

  29. kgirl says:

    Call me completely clueless, but I am going to Blogher this year, and until now, the thought of swag had not even occured to me. So really, I could not care less about it, won’t get caught up in it, and will do my best not just to grab it because it’s there. That kind of thing drives me nuts.

  30. jodifur says:

    You know what? I love this post. B/c what I remember from blogher is wishing I had more time to talk to people. I don’t even know where the swag is. And I feel like I missed talking to so many people on sunday.

    I’m sorry you needed help. I should have offered. Because I am always here to help.

  31. Oh my gosh. I feel like such a boof because I should have been more attentive to you and my friends who had babies in their hands at this event.

    It should have been easier. And your pals should have been more aware.

    Shame on us.

  32. room design says:

    Hi, great post! I like reading it.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Keep the great post coming!

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