Holy Swag Bag!

What is the one thing that’s been on the minds of the young, the old, the rich and the not so well-endowed member of every community on earth right recently? Christmas gifts. Yes, it is that once-a-year time again when many of us ran around frantically searching for the it thing to gift our loved ones, meanwhile the children got hyped up about what they might find hidden inside their Christmas stocking. For most of us, the season to give has come and gone and life will return to the dullness we like to call normal. For a few 1% of the world population, popularly known as celebrities, this phenomenon will linger far beyond the festive holidays. They too will enjoy the gift galore fever of Christmas, although come January, February into March (and every other month throughout the annual celebrity event calendar) the gifts will get bigger and they will keep coming.

Welcome to the second installment of a tour-by-word inside the velvet rope of celebrity lifestyle as we take on THE GIFT BAG, otherwise also referred to as the swag bag. One does not have to be a fan of celebrities to wonder what goes inside the Oscar nominee’s gift bags and all the other events that mark the most exciting time on the celebrity events calendar – that is award season. The Oscars, undisputedly the biggest night in Hollywood garnered celebrity gift bags for nominees in 2014 that each carried product to the value of $80 000. Inside each parcel are the most sought-after products, celebrity relevant books, high-priced resort and villa stays and high-performance gadgets to rival everyday mass consumer goods. The joy of my job is being gifted some of these holy goodies, a perk I relish and put in more hours of work than I bill for because this truly makes one’s work life a lifestyle, more than it is a career. If everyone was shown as much appreciation in their line of work, I doubt anyone would think twice being of service to their boss or business division beyond the call of duty. Let’s get to the fun stuff and talk a bit about the brands that land the coveted spot inside these swag bags.

THE BRANDS INSIDE CELEBRITY GIFT BAGS: A universe of businesses dream of their product taking orbit stage inside the gift bags given to celebrity personalities. Why the whole craze about it? This is what is known as a product placement opportunity. One that is mightier than every marketing effort you can think of. There is only so much deliberate PR strategies can do for a brand. There is also so much the advertising spend can do to reach consumers. However if a brand made its way into a celebrity gift bag, especially those given to nominees and winners on Oscar Sunday, brand awareness stands to enjoy a global rippling effect that is worth multi-millions which normally a company would have to spend over 5 or more years trying to achieve. That kind of awareness automatically leads to record breaking sales figures. The type of businesses who aim for this shot are no so much the luxe brands we associate with entertainment icons. It is quite rare to stumble upon a Gucci watch or a pair of Nike Airs. Most brands inside the gift bag are innovators of products like Purell hand sanitizer with a jelly sleeve that is gold and bejeweled with crystals, a $16 000 hair transplant offer, a vampire facelift, $2700 worth of a procedure to help women’s sex drive or a lifetime mobile gym membership for the mind. Every single one of these products makes a statement worth shouting about from rooftops and does something out of the ordinary to enhance everyday life. A lot of people are curious what kind of products are most suited for celebrity gifting. Observing from my experience, apparel, baby products for celebrity moms, green household products, organic beauty and gym digest products, while tech gadgets and related accessories are a big winner almost all the time. How does a product make its way into these gift bags though?

CELEBRITY GIFTING COMPANIES: For several years I have had the pride and privilege of working with PR firms that produce celebrity gift suite lounges, and companies that curate unofficial gift bags handed to award presenters and attendees. Organizers of events such as the Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTAs and others outside the award season bracket like Sundance Film Festival, Coachella and The Cannes Film Festival appoint public relations firms and celebrity placement companies to offer services in the form of events that create buzz for the actual event. These events are called gifting suites or gift suite lounges. Typically, these service providers approach companies to participate in a gift suit lounge where their products are strategically on exhibit at a secret location and targeted celebrities are invited to select their choice of products from the exhibit and get photographed with the product to drive publicity for the product. Most gift suite curate products and brands into two categories. Those that go on exhibit at the gift suite, and the crème of the crop that get shipped to the main event as special merchandise that have made the swag bag which will be handed to nominees at the awards, or A-list celebrity at non-award shows. Getting product to the gifting suites or into the main event swag bag comes at a price tag which ranges from $5000 – $45000 as the placement fee. Few brand custodians who can caught up $15 000 upwards have had the rare chance of snapping a photo backstage with a celebrity holding up their product at events like Coachella. For every submission to participate in this form of product placement the screening process requires businesses to organize a minimum of 5 sample products for inclusion in the selection. With the growing popularity of this marketing method, there are more and more brands and products who want to get their product into these events, and therefore take initiative in contacting gift suite consultants and event producers to pitch their product. It is around the last quarter of the year that the mad rush begins to try getting product into the Award Season events. When a successful chance is missed at that peak time, businesses set their sights for other major events that take place throughout the rest of the year.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE GIFT BAG: Once the process to curate the bags is concluded, much press is generated around the gift suite lunge and especially the main event gift bag. The price tag around the bag is what drives much of the press attention. If a product makes the cut and lands in a gift bag for nominees or A-listers, it will surely get much mention in blogs, national magazines and TV lifestyle or women’s talk shows as the subject of discussion along with other products that were included. The bigger the price tag, the more innovative the product or the most outrageous an invention – the better press shelf life a business will receive for their brand. Beforet can find themselves in the hands of celebrities, the company organizing the products will carefully pair A-list talent with quality brands that make the cut. And that is part of the criteria that determines if Khloe Kardashian or the William Sisters’ publicist will receive a call to submit their client for attendance at the gift suite lounge. The ultimate destination for any product regardless of how it landed in the hands of a celebrity is for them to tweet or post insta shots of it and caption their love and usage of the product. That tweet or instagram photo will be center of much buzz on just about every news, tabloid and magazine feature both online and print. It is the staff business dreams are made of. So the next time you see a Kardashian posting about some hair treatment oil or a waist training corset, it may well have come through the evolution of the gift bag.

Kimberly Varney

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