3 Inspired Rules for Curating Great Swag Bags

Swag bags are a good idea for event planners, for sponsors, and for attendees. Why? Ask any kid leaving a birthday party, and they’ll tell you: “Because gifts are cool.” As adults, we figure out what “cool” means; we know that goodie bags, or swag bags, leave attendees with a feeling of value. They’re a great way to show people you appreciated their presence at your event, but swag bags have this effect only if they are done correctly. In this article we’ll be looking at some of the most opulent and thoughtful swag bags around to find out what makes a great gift bag – at any price.

The Inspiration: The Oscar Swag Bag

Valued at more than $60,000, this year’s Oscar nominees took home what is undoubtedly the King of Goodie Bags. Each year the contents of the bag differ, but they usually include vacations, promotions for free parties (this year’s bag included a party for up to 100 guests in any location, with any drink menu, valued at more than $15,000), as well as quirky items (i.e. hand sanitizer blinged out with a Swarovski case, literally inhalable dessert, and free blowouts for a year). Lash Fary, founder of Distinctive Assets, an L.A. – based marketing firm, has helped curate the Oscar swag bags for over 13 years and offers the following advice:

Rule 1: Help attendees shop for items they might not usually buy.

This doesn’t mean you have to be Academy – Award-lavish about your swag bags. A great way to help participants get their hands on items that they may have never thought of buying is to bring them to the cutting edge. We’ve mentioned this before, but it is a great way to incorporate the newest tech into your goodie bag at a variety of price points, shop for swag on Kickstarter and/or Fab.com.

The Inspiration: The TED Global 2010 Swag Bag

TED conferences are known for giving out some killer goodie bags. The 2010 Global Conference was no exception. The special edition bag (made from finest woolen Irish and Scottish textiles) was chock full of useful, quality items, including an umbrella (to keep people dry in the rainy English weather), an Inklet trackpad, an SIM card, Rhodia notebooks as well as some informative and interesting DVDs from the BBC.

Rule 2: Choose quality and utility over quantity.

If attendees are more likely to chuck your gifts into the bin than to read/wear/write with/or otherwise use them, skip it. Keeping quality in mind, a useful book or quality sweater will do a lot more for attendees than several junky gifts. As this Hubspot article points out your attendees do not need more keychains, crummy pens, paper weights, or USB drives. For a more detailed outline of what good swag looks and feels like to attendees, check out this recent article from New York Time bestseller, Chester Elton.

BONUS: A simple way to add perceived quality to a goodie bag is to make sure that all the design elements are consistent. And to ensure utility of your swag bag is to treat it like a first-aid kit for your event. If your event is outdoors, for example, sunglasses, sunscreen, even a parasol/umbrella are great ideas. Naturally, beware of adding chocolates and malty snacks to a bag in hot weather. This is the only epic fail to involve chocolate in the known universe.

The Inspiration: The TEDActive 2012 Swag Bag

The TEDActive bag last year, however, had a neat twist. The Jack Spade bag was stuffed with not only practical gifts like nice pens, notebooks, and a stylus, but it also contained a lot of fun and creativity, including a Radio Flyer scooter, a one-year membership to Lynda, and a Quarterly.co gift card (a cool service that sends you unique curated items in the mail from influential contributors of your choice. The gifts in this bag really seemed to be geared toward creativity and fun, which leads us to rule three.

Rule 3: Seek out gifts that inspire.

Whether it be inspiring play, fun, creativity, ideas or learning, giving the gift of ongoing inspiration goes a long way to helping attendees feel cared for and appreciated. Beware, sponsors will sometimes want to stuff your gift bag with advertisements and promotions. Make sure you keep a balance between relevant sponsor materials and unique, inspiring gifts that encourage growth and happiness.

If you need a little more help finding such goodies, we recommend giving attendees things like a membership to Luminosity (brain training on-the-go), subscriptions to these mind-mapping tools, or a copy of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity (a highly-rated book by Josh Linkner on how to integrate more creativity into even the most corporate of environments).

Gifts can either leave a lasting, positive impression on event attendees or they fall flat – leaving participants feeling bored, unappreciated, or annoyed. To ensure your bag is on the right track, ask yourself: is this something I would give to myself or to someone I care about? These three rules will guide you to swag bag greatness, no matter the budget.

What tips would you add for creating amazing goodie bags for events?

P.S. If you would like to read about Bad Swag Bag examples and the rules for what not to do, leave us a comment!