SWAG! What is It? Why Use It?

The Meaning of Swag

There are several explanations for the origins of the word “swag.” In the 1800’s, swag was known as the loot taken in a robbery. Since it was often put in a bag for a quick getaway it led to the phrase “swag bag.” At the peak of the dotcom boom swag became synonymous with free giveaways, especially at conferences and expos where a bag of free swag with sponsors’ branding emblazoned on it was given to attendees. There are even those who believe it is an acronym for, “Stuff We All Get,” but this is probably a later addition. 

Early in the 2000’s “swag” became synonymous with “cool,” It became very trendy slang for something being the very best, hippest, coolest or boss. The meaning of swag is also connected to the idea of a person having “swagger” or enough confidence to stand out, to be unique. The term did not last long as a descriptive slang word and is now mostly used tongue in cheek/ ironically.

What has lasted through the decades is the practice of gifting exclusive and desirable items, “swag” as a way for companies to build brand awareness and stick in people’s minds.

What Is Swag?

Swag in the advertising and marketing world refers to any assortment of fun, useful and/or desirable items that are customized and branded with a business logo and given to clients, employees, conference registrants, etc. Businesses often use this logo emblazoned swag as a means of building rapport with customers or encouraging employees to become brand ambassadors.

We have all seen the coffee mugs, tumblers, T-shirts, USB chargers, sweatshirts, water bottles and pens, as well as a whole slew of other desirable items that companies typically give away. A couple of recent statistics reveal the potential of swag:

  • 46% of consumers prefer when a brand gives away swag that is environmentally friendly and sustainable.
  • Outerwear items like T-shirts, jackets and hoodies, are worn for an average of 16 months, producing an average of 6,100 impressions for your brand.

This means that when the swag given away matches well with the target audience a lot of brand impressions will be produced for your business. But swag also has a feel to it, for a lot of businesses it is important to know how to be swag and how to have swag.

How to Be Swag

The best ways for your business to “be swag” with the use of your brand’s swag giveaways is to understand your audience and create giveaways that will most likely be used and appreciated by that audience. People coming to a conference may appreciate travel products, a young educated audience wants health conscious and eco-friendly items and everyone prefers high quality items even if that means fewer of them. Make sure that you know your company budget and test how usable and durable the products are before placing your order. 

How to Have Swag

At a business conference where numerous companies offer swag bags or at an expo where there may be hundreds of tables with swag for attendees, it is not good enough to know how to be swag. To make your mark at these events you need to know how to have swag. To have swag you need to have swagger!

Although there are no foolproof methods to having swag, there are ways to give your brand a swagger boost. Here are five recommendations:

  1. Make sure your logo absolutely “pops!” This is vital to making lasting impressions.
  2. Quality is always better than quantity. People use and wear things they like. And research reveals that 72% of recipients associate the quality of swag to business reputation.
  3. Know your audience and create swag that stands out to them.
  4. Change up your swag offerings regularly. Don’t be predictable, mix things up.
  5. Occasionally take a chance with a swag item that is unique and memorable. 

What you are aiming for is brand awareness and visibility so make sure your logo and logo branded swag have real swagger. 

What Is Marketing Swag?

The evolution of marketing swag, whether received by clients, employees, trade show attendees, conference goers, etc., is the swag bag of branded goodies packaged to be fun and attractive. Business swag bags often get filled with functional, creative and useful products. Products like headphones, portable chargers or power adapters are desirable because they are useful but people don’t often think to buy them. Clothing swag bags work well in all situations since we all wear clothes and printed or embroidered logos are great for brand visibility. Stationary swag bags often include notepads, kinetic desk toys, coffee mugs, pens, etc., and often recipients long term usefulness. 

Any or all of these marketing swag products can be effective conversation starters for your employees or clients. And, of course, they can be packaged in your customized swag bags for easy delivery at conferences, trade shows, mailed in a box to a new client or given in appreciation to an employee of the month.

For those still asking, “what is marketing swag and who is it designed and used for? Here is the answer: 

Swag is meant to drive brand loyalty while:

  • Welcoming new customers, clients and employees
  • Celebrating milestones, special occasions and holidays with employees
  • Event hosting with prospective customers
  • Conference hosting with business associates

When determining what you want to do with marketing swag, keep in mind that apparel has the highest brand recall. In fact, according to research: 

  • 85% of people remember a brand when it is emblazoned on clothing.
  • 40% of consumers who own swag say they have kept it for more than 10 years.
  • 59% of employees have a more favorable impression for their companies when given branded promotional products.

Swagging on…

Promotional swag can help companies drive brand recall, brand awareness as well as employee loyalty and satisfaction. When done well swag can make a long-lasting impact while also generating good ROI for certain verticals. The problem is that if your business doesn’t put any swagger into your swag it will mostly be a waste of time and money and simply add to landfills.

If you are thinking about adding swag to your business marketing plan, one of the best things you can do is contact agency to get professional marketing advice. We will inventory your assets and help you determine just exactly what is swag so that we can build your business’s brand, raise brand awareness and generate the wow factor for your business. Contact us at .agency and let us add some swagger to your next swag order!

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zo agency serves as the marketing department for small to midsize businesses that are typically too small to have their own internal marketing department and invariably too big to manage without one.

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Sonja Anderson


In this episode of It’s Not Just Business Talks with Sonja, John Corcoran talks with Sonja Anderson about the adventures along her journey of creating zo agency. Sonja discusses her unusual childhood in Scotland, why she wanted to come to the US, how she learned to excel in radio sales, and her vision for zo agency.

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