The awkwardness of swag

June 7, 2010

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.