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What is a Swag Bag?

Heidi Thorne is the author of "SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business."


What stars get in their celebrity swag bags at events always makes news. But what is a swag bag? And how do marketers use them to promote their businesses?

The Meaning of Swag

The term "swag" has a variety of meanings. For the discussion here, swag is a term used in and about the promotional products industry. But how can the word possibly be connected?

According to, the slang definition of swag means "plunder; booty" or "money; valuables." That's a plausible connection. Trade show visitors usually score promotional booty as they walk an expo floor. And, usually, those goodies are carried or distributed a bag. Thus, a "swag bag." Unfortunately, some folks lean more toward the "plunder" side of the definition and score a little more than their share.

But another explanation for the use of the word swag for promotional items is that it's an acronym for the following phrases (

  • Stuff We All Get
  • Souvenirs, Wearables And Gifts (a variation is Souvenirs, Wearables, Awards & Gifts)
  • Sealed With A Gift (a gift as a promotion can sometimes seal the deal)

All of those fit, too.

Regardless of how it came to be connected with promo, swag is a term used in today's vernacular to refer to promotional giveaways and gifts.

Celebrity Swag Bags and Swag Suites

Why would anyone want to give rich Hollywood types a swag bag full of expensive goodies? One word: marketing.

Imagine that a fashion company could get a famous starlet to don—even endorse, talk about or be photographed with—their clothing, accessories or beauty products. Talk about swag meaning "valuables!" Huge PR value.

These Hollywood swag bags and goodies are often distributed in swag suites. These suites offer brands the chance to get photo ops of celebs interacting with the featured products or services.

Lest one think that this is a way that "the rich get richer," our friends at the IRS have stepped in and now require swag suite gift recipients to report their takings as "income" and not "gifts."

Swag Bags for the Rest of Us

Okay, most of us are not Hollywood's A-list or sports superstars... and don't do business with them either. But anyone's branded swag bag can have similar goals as those used for giving to celebrities: Getting people to interact and talk up a brand, with the ultimate goal being to create a group of brand loyal customers.

In the everyday marketing arena, both the bag and/or the swag items it contains can help build an organization's brand. As customers use a branded bag, they spread the brand name throughout their communities and networks, creating a higher number of impressions than almost any other mass media or broadcast advertising medium. This higher number of impressions is achieved, not only through the number of places it appears, but as a result of long term use of the bag.

Whether the bag itself or its contents are the focus of a promotion, selecting the right branded swag bag for the audience and intended use is critical.

Digital Swag Bags

New on the swag bag horizon are digital swag bags. These use no physical bag at all. Rather, recipients are given gift cards, special website links, QR codes or promotional codes to download digital gifts of all kinds including:

  • Music downloads
  • Videos
  • Mobile apps
  • eBooks
  • Services (online or offline)
  • Gift certificates
  • Magazine or other subscriptions
  • Discounts
  • Contests

Best part about these gifts is that they can encourage high engagement with a company and its brand. As well, recipients often appreciate these high value e-gifts more than physical ones.

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Digital swag can be very cost effective and a greener promotional alternative that can be distributed in the following ways:

  • Media download cards
  • Email
  • QR codes
  • Mobile apps

The biggest challenge with digital swag is getting people to use it. Signs, email advertising, social media and in-booth trade show promotions can be crucial to digital gifting success.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 04, 2014:

Aw, thanks stuff4kids! Being in the promo biz for many years, I just want to share a lot of what I've learned. Putting together a digital swag bag for signups is a great idea... and one that would be inexpensive to create. Appreciate you stopping by. Have a wonderful weekend!

Amanda Littlejohn on April 04, 2014:

You are totally the Queen of great promotional tips and ideas!

I don't have the kind of product that can be promoted with swag - but you've got my mind ticking over the possibilities of 'digital swag bags' to incentivize sign-ups on a blog, for example.

Thanks for sharing! :)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 02, 2014:

Agreed, CMHypno, the past few years have not had great swag bags... here in the States, too. We can only hope for better goodies in the future. Thanks for stopping by & have a lovely day!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on April 02, 2014:

One big downside of the last few tough economic years in the UK is that what you get in a swag bag at an exhibition or trade show is not what it used to be! Now all you tend to get is a couple of small things and a lot of leaflets! Haven't had anything decent for years lol!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 01, 2014:

Hi Alicia C! It is true that marketers should always be thinking about how a swag bag can be useful for recipients (otherwise it ends up in the trash). But it always has to be approached with an eye to achieving a marketing goal. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation! Have a great week!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 31, 2014:

This hub is interesting and useful, Heidi. I've always thought of swag bags with respect to how they benefit the recipient, but I can see how they would be very useful to promote a business.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2014:

Well, epbooks/Elizabeth, now ya know. :) I have to admit that I hadn't really heard or used the term either until about 5 years ago when a networking friend from California asked me if I could help her with some swag. Guess it's a West Coast thing. Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2014:

Thanks, as always, alacaster149, for making me smile with your commentary! Indeed, the term has various meanings among cultures. But here in the States, we've got swag-ger. Cheers!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on March 31, 2014:

I can picture a shifty-looking character wearing black mask, cap and trews, a horizontal-striped and crew-necked jersey and massive sack on his back spilling Georgian candlesticks and Victorian jewellery. That's a swag-bag here

But no, this is a Heidithorne Hub-page. Can't be buckshee, can it!

You don't need to be a *WAG or LA 'Leggy' to carry Louis Vuitton these days, do you. At the lower end of the market you can get Tesco bags for your shopping (whacko, eh, doesn't get better)! If you want to go a bit more up-market and snazzy there's always Sainsbury's - or maybe Harrods! Now the Chinese are after buying House of Frazer, they'll probably have bone-white bags with China-style blue figures and bridges on the bags. Now THEY'LL be collectables!

Have a nice night now, Heidi!

PS: *Wags: Brit football terminology = wives and girlfriends

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on March 31, 2014:

Great explanation. I've used them before and have heard of them, but never knew where the meaning came from or what their real intent was for. Good job!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2014:

Well, FlourishAnyway, I also know SWAG stands for "super wild ass guess." :) But I am definitely liking your definition! I'll have to share that with my promo industry pals. Have a terrific week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2014:

Happy Monday, billybuc! Glad to see you were in the know about what it is. Have a terrific week ahead!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 30, 2014:

I wonder how many actually knew what a swag bag was? I'm proud to say I did. :) Great information as always, Heidi!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 30, 2014:

OMG. Someone once told me that swag stood for sweet ass gifts, so that is what I have been believing for years! Thanks for setting the record straight!

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