No. 28 | Seven questions to ask before you order swag

A horrifying coffee mug commemorating a 2002 USPIS event called "Terror Across the Heartland".
Photo: A horrifying coffee mug commemorating a 2002 USPIS training event called “Terror Across the Heartland”.

I have strong feelings about swag (also known as schwag, which, ew). The overall sentiment is: NO. Not my most convincing argument, I realize. So please consider these seven questions before you order swag for your next event:

1. Is this a nice object without our logo?

Logos tend to make objects worse. Charles Eames once wrote to Henry Ford asking for a custom car that included “minimum of advertising signs and symbols attached — preferably none”.

If you’re making swag, you probably want your logo out in the world. Sure, fine. But if the thing the logo is going on is a cheap piece of imported plastic junk that no one would want even without the logo…why? 

2. Will it fit inside a breadbox?

If you want your swag to go home with people, it can’t be too big. Seems obvious but you’d be surprised. (It probably also shouldn’t be prone to leaking, popping, or breaking.)

This is, as a bonus, the third best question to ask in the game of 20 Questions.

3. Would I wear this to the gym?

If you have to plaster the back with sponsor logos, at least give me a nice, minimal design on the front of the shirt. I’ve turned a lot of volunteer and race t-shirts into rags because they have cheesy sayings, garish colors, and/or ugly designs. (If you have to get an ugly shirt printed please print it on white so it makes good rags.)

4. Could the recipient re-gift this?

This might apply more to gift bags than typical swag, but it’s always nice if the the items aren’t so overly-branded or custom or strange that they can’t be passed on to someone in the recipient’s life.

5. Is this being manufactured in an ethical way?

A great question before you get anything made, but in my experience event organizers are often on tight budgets which leads them to order chemical-coated crap from some factory they’ll never see halfway around the world.

6. Do people I know have strong personal preferences about this kind of thing?

I use one brand of notebook and one kind of pen. If it’s a nice pen or notebook I might throw it in my box of freebies to regift (see #4) but usually I don’t even bother. Water bottles and bags also come to mind. 

7. How soon will this go in the garbage, and am I comfortable with that?

Are you?

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