Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's Swag Season.

‘Swag’ is a slang term for freebies given away to promote a product. The term does not encompass actual marketing support materials, such as brochures, nor free samples of the product itself, but it can be applied to just about everything else. Swag invariably is branded, meaning it is imprinted with the product’s logo.

The most common swag item probably is the t-shirt. Also common are pens, key chains, tote bags, and hats. The most common item specific to the booze business is glassware. Although most swag is inexpensive, just about anything can be considered swag if you slap a logo on it and give it away.

Swag has a long history in the booze business. While consumers get hats and t-shirts customers (i.e., bars and stores) get mirrors, clocks, cocktail shakers and pitchers, glassware, and ‘consumables’ such as napkins and coasters. Companies that make this stuff put out thick catalogs of possibilities and just about everything in those catalogs has been used at some point by a liquor company.

Although regulators have clamped down on it in recent years, I’ve seen televisions, patio furniture, coolers, and other fairly snazzy items used as trade gifts. USB drives have become common lately because they can also be used to deliver marketing information.

Writers and other ‘influencers’ get in on this too. We get included in much of what goes to the trade. Realistically, swag is mostly about getting your product or message a little extra attention and giving the recipient a reason to feel more fondly toward you. It’s ‘a little something’ intended to grease the wheels of commerce. Some people fret about undue influence but it’s hard to imagine many orders worth thousands of dollars hinge on who gives the nicest gifts. Trinkets and trash are all well and good but real bribes are still made in cash, under the table.

Fall is the industry’s big season for everything, including swag. Probably the nicest thing I’ve gotten is an iPod Shuffle from Jim Beam. The cocktail shaker I use came from Woodford Reserve. Until it finally stopped working my kitchen clock promoted Seagram’s Gin. I re-gift a lot of the stuff when I teach classes or do other events.

Most publications have policies about their staff writers accepting gifts and other consideration from producers. Independents like me have to use our own best judgment. A few years ago, one of the producers sent me and other writers a Visa gift card worth $200. This went too far for most of us and caused a considerable amount of consternation. Most either returned it or, as I did, donated it to a charity. The producer said it was a mistake and apologized.

A few years ago there was a big to-do about bloggers (not specifically in the booze business) who gave glowing reviews to anyone who sent them cool stuff. This was mostly a case of people who were brand new to the world of marketing and promotion getting carried away by the largesse. Most of us who write about this industry are pretty jaded and not easily influenced. I didn’t write this for purposes of disclosure but rather because I thought you might find it interesting, which is why I write and publish anything.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In NY, spirits producers and wholesalers giving any inducement, and swag is seen as such, is illegal. But that doesn't stop the major wholesalers from engaging in it anyway. Any fine is simply part of doing business, if the state ever decides that it's worth it's time to look into the issue.

There certainly are retailers and bar/restaurant owners who have scruples, and most do. But in the NY business culture of "what have you done for me lately?" that use swag, free booze, etc to ensure a slightly more special relationship with their distributor(s). And for the latter, it's much easier as profitable to send a couple reps to a few big accounts, than work with hundreds of little stores that sell much less.