The ‘Stuff We All Get’ Has Changed

swag bag

In the wake of the pandemic, organizations are using SWAG to reconnect with clients and customers.

By Shelby Rowe Moyer

In just one year, the landscape of SWAG has totally changed. Flashy pens and tote bags emblazoned with company logos were the top sellers last August.

Unsurprisingly, those have been passed over in favor of face masks and hand sanitizer, says Pat Baudhuin, president of SWAG Promotions, a supplier of promotional products based in the Midwest.

Just like nearly every other industry, SWAG companies have been hit hard. SWAG Promotions has a 22-year history, and it has certainly experienced tough times, Baudhuin says, but not like this. Trade shows have been cancelled, advertising budgets have been slashed and businesses have tightened their overall spending.

“Bluntly, [the pandemic] has been our largest roadblock in over 20 years,” he says. “Depending on the month, sales are down anywhere from 35 to 55% industrywide.”

As organizations struggle to connect with employees and customers, however, many are looking to SWAG as a way to rekindle those relationships and, frankly, remind clients that they’re still in business. A simple gift goes a long way these days, Baudhuin says. As we’re entering the cold season, a pair of gloves, a beanie or a hot chocolate kit with a mug and a note reading “Heating up for 2020,” is a thoughtful and useful gesture. 

Baudhuin is also seeing a rise in SWAG kits — like the “Corona Kit” packed with a picnic cooler, wine, beer, gourmet nuts, first aid kit and a card. Organizations have also been sending half of a gift — like a martini glass and shaker — and prompting the receiver to visit them in the new year or contact them for the other half.

“In an extremely nonpersonal, nonphysical world right now, it adds a huge flair of ‘I’m thinking about you, we care about you and we’re still open,’” or ‘we’re still here to do business.’” Baudhuin says. “It’s being opened. It’s being seen. And I think it’s going to be a critical part of relaunching.”

He stresses that organizations don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to do this. Some will contact him and say they have $200 to spend, and what can they get for that? He’s also encouraging companies to be mindful of how they’re spending their promotional money. Many want their item shipped in a customized box with wow-factor appeal. But at the end of the day, that box is going to be thrown away, he says. Instead, ship your items in a simple cardboard box, and instead put that money toward a functional product. The days of blingy, flashy, shiny SWAG are over, he says. Pens, mugs, tote bags, coolers, hats, T-shirts — anything useful and functional — will always be good options.

“If I’m wearing a hat or a shirt, think about how many times that shirt is going to be read over its lifetime,” Baudhuin says. “Those will always be a top seller, and hopefully help a lot of small businesses that have been crushed [by the pandemic].”