Understandably, it's popular to denounce and spurn cheap & wasteful conference swag these days. As Elizabeth Segran (@LizSegran) points out in Fast Company, conference swag is part of a much bigger problem:
"As you may have heard, the planet is hurtling toward a full-on environmental crisis. A month ago, the United Nations released a report written by 91 scientists in 40 countries saying that there is a strong risk that we will begin experiencing terrible consequences from climate change as soon as 2040. (Think: Food shortages, wildfires, the end of coral reefs.)
"When you think about all of the energy and resources that go into making just one of the tote bags that I have just thrown into the trash–only to end up in a landfill–the impact in staggering. Such bags are often made out of cotton with its own environmental footprint, or plastic made from oil. In most cases, they are sewn together in low-wage factories in China, then shipped around the world. And for what purpose? So that a company can marginally improve its brand recognition by stuffing them with pamphlets and handing them out at an event."
Enter the New SWAG
Companies that want to reflect their brand values, achieve their business objectives, and not perpetuate the climate crisis are embracing more Sustainable Ways of Achieving their Goals. This is the new SWAG—where the need to delight potential customers, gain visibility for your brand, and drive your business objectives isn't lost AND isn't contributing to a limited shelf life for the planet.
In her FastCompany article, Liz provides some creative ideas for enlightened marketing departments that "have sway over their swag":
"I’d appreciate a back massage at a conference, or perhaps a yoga class, or a free headshot. I’d even enjoy a good meal instead of a swag bag. Give me a cold brew, awesome donuts, or a burger. If you wrap the event in your branding, there’s a good chance your target customer will remember that experience long after the tote bag is stuffed in a landfill somewhere."
Writing in Forbes, Zach Robbins (@zachbrobb) offers "five lanyard, koozie, and USB stick-free ideas" to change things up in favour of the new SWAG. He makes the case for (1) hosting an event, (2) creating an experience, (3) going local, (4) being altruistic, or (5) embracing big creativity instead of opting for unoriginal and cheap branded giveaways. Zach concludes his article with this call to action:
"We all have enough pens. So I propose that starting now, we put a stop to the endless cycle of branded knickknacks and start thinking about how we can do better. Our business goals, our budgets, and our office drawers will all be better off."
And then there's the recent case of San Francisco-based Octa, which dropped conference swag altogether and made 13,000 school donations instead. Octa's wasn't the first company to replace conference swag with charitable donations. In 2014, FBWeb.net now US Cloud replaced its conference swag with donations to Charity:Water.
Embracing SWAG Alternatives
There's a common element to all of these ideas and examples. Cheap and wasteful swag is outmoded and potentially harming your brand. There are more cost effective and less wasteful ways to engage potential customers & partners at conferences. And most importantly, the new SWAG by design is better at achieving your business goals than cheap disposables with your company's logo on it.
Once your company has landed on its new SWAG, you'll need a creative way to reveal it that's memorable and fun. Of course, we'd suggest you reveal your new SWAG with UnWrapIt by creating a batch of zero-waste and personalized gift opening experiences for each and every attendee of your next conference or promotional event.