‘Swag Bag’ Items Destined To End Up In The ‘Trash Bag’


Giving away promotional items at an event isn’t a new idea.

But just because this trend has been running for a while doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. If you don’t put enough thought into exactly what goes into your swag bag, chances are you’ll be forgotten minutes after the event. Or worse still, be remembered as the dorky brand that handed out real junk. While this kind of bad press would have faded quickly in the past, social media ensures embarrassment now follows you around for days and its impact can last much, much longer.

While choosing the right items for your swag bag depends on your company message, your audience and the event you’re attending, here are 10 wrong ones you must definitely avoid.

Branded Key Chains

It used to be cool to get a keychain in your swag bag, until everyone started giving them out. And right now, it’s become one of the least effective ways to get attendees to remember your brand. Of course, some companies think they’ve worked their way around ubiquity by adding other functions to their keychain. But most conference attendees already have enough bottle openers and whistles or pen torches around and don’t need one more.

Branded Pens


Sure, everyone could use an extra pen. But, if you take even a casual look around a conference, no one is whipping out a leather journal and a pen, Indiana Jones-style, to take notes any more. It’s usually a smartphone and maybe a tablet. If they really have to ‘journal’, they might reach for a laptop. So what’s someone going to go with a cheap plastic pen, anyway?

And speaking of cheap, most promotional pens are scratchy to write with and dry up pretty quickly. You know the phrase ‘You had one job’. Yep, your promotional pen is most likely going to fail at it.

Branded Desk Calendars

While we’re on the subject of mobile, handing out a desk calendar shows just how out of touch your brand really is with digital reality. Today, just like the notebook and the time of day, calendars are on every digital device. They’re easy to access, easier to plan with and sync across all our devices. And unlike your tent card desk calendar, any appointments marked on a digital calendar follow us around, in our pocket, everywhere we go.

Branded Paper Weights


If desk calendars felt particularly redundant…nothing screams “useless” more than a paperweight. But not only is it hugely non-functional, its also heavy and bulky — two things that traveling conference attendees don’t want to deal with while going from session to session and traveling home. When thinking of conference swag, always go for something light, useful, and easy to travel with.

Branded Mouse Pads


You might be pardoned for considering one of these. After all, if you’ve gone to a computer store lately, you can still see them for sale on shelves. So you imagine if people are willing to pay for them, surely they’d appreciate one for free. But what you’re not considering is context.

Most mouse pads out there today are from co-branded with PC games. The people buying it already have an affinity towards the game. People at conferences don’t share the same enthusiasm for your brand. In many cases, they might have just met you. And considering you have to glance at a mouse pad everyday, it might be a bit presumptuous to assume they want to stare at your brand logo.

Branded Caps


If mouse pads were hard to integrate into people’s lives, imagining someone would happily donate their head as a mobile billboard for your brand’s logo is really pushing it … unless you’re The Walt Disney Company. (Mickey Mouse ears are still, somehow okay). Even if you only want to use your brand’s colors, think about whether a grown man really wants to walk around wearing a pink cap, or a purple one. Chances are he doesn’t, which means your cap never gets worn.

Branded Phone Cases

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Another example of a product, which useful as it may be, will probably never get used is a phone case. Even though a phone case is an item we need to use everyday, we only ever need one of them and chances are, most of us who want one already have one.

We’ve seen a number of phone cases given away at conferences lately, and yet we haven’t seen any attendees put them on their phones. Why? Because they already have a phone case — one they’ve carefully chosen and then paid for.

Even a phone case doubling as a cardholder might be cool in theory, but chances are your attendees won’t switch out their own for one with your company’s name and logo on it.

Branded USB Flash Drives

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This device covers the trifecta of promotional gifts – it’s small, it’s easy to carry, and you can load it with cool stuff like session presentations. Surely this is a winner, right? Not exactly.

See, this used to be the ideal way to share information and it’s utility ensured repeated use. But with more people storing documents in the cloud and being able to access it on devices which don’t have a USB drive means the days of this great storage solution are numbered, if not already over.

Plus, the reasonably priced ones don’t have a lot of storage and can break really easily. Neither of which are problems when it comes to cloud storage. For brands really keen to share digital folders with attendees, user-friendly services like Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox are so much more convenient.

Branded Backpacks

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Strictly in practical terms, you could make the argument that backpacks are a great swag item. They’re reusable in many different contexts, they can flatten and fold up for the trip home, or they can be used to help carry all the other swag and stuff attendees picked up at the conference, right?

But from a human perspective, you have to admit… branded backpacks are a little bit nerdy. How many attendees do you think are really going to take home a backpack with your logo on it and wear it around — especially if they’ve just having heard of your company for the very first time? Probably not many.

We’ve seen far too many conference attendees throw free backpack giveaways in the trash … and that’s a big item to throw away. Even tote bags are more reasonable. Think instead of items attendees might actually wear, even if they haven’t heard of you, like t-shirts.

Branded Stress Balls


This is possibly the worst idea for a promotional item. You would think the name itself would be a clear hint. Unless you work for a pharmaceutical company that produces stress-relief medication, why would you want your brand to be associated with any form of stress? Worse still, why would you want attendees to remember you only in times of stress? You’re better off handing out Ping-Pong balls. Sure, they’re about as misguided but at least you can use them to play a sport (which research shows, actually makes us happier).

Are You A Shining Example, Or A Warning?

When it comes to picking the right promotional items for your swag bag, remember this quote, “If you’re not here to stand out as an example, you’re definitely here to serve as a warning.” So before you pick your next item blindly out of a catalogue, take a minute to think about how your attendees will perceive it. And if you can’t see an immediate fit or unquestionable novelty, chances are they won’t either.

What are some other promo products you’ve seen that made you laugh? Blast it down in the comments below!

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