Mark said something to the effect of “We’re so desperate to be liked that we’ll glom on to something like Facebook like we invented it, and will look like idiots because by the time we stumble on it, it’s a fundamental in the lives of probably a third of our audience.”
Swag is kind of that way. Going out to a beach and giving someone a drink cup with the accordion straw thingy circa 1990 is going to make you look a little dated. Drink bottles are great but they’ve evolved a little since the first Bush presidency.
Key chains? It’s kind of like what Bill Murray said in “What About Bob?”: some people like Neil Diamond, and some people don’t. In terms of key chains, color me “Don’t”. Why? Go and do what I did with a GM and sit at an event and ask everyone to show their key chain.
These items for most people have some kind of significance. Maybe something from the sorority or college, or something with a logo of their car on it, or a sports team, or in my case, a plastic key tag from a Best Western in Wendover, Utah from 1980. Long story…
No one had cheap 3 cent key chains from a radio station or casino or gas station.
The key to swag is that you want something that people will use and that won’t sit in a drawer or glove compartment.
For the ‘nesters in the cubicles? Any kind of coffee drinking device, pens, note pads and especially lanyards. Even those hooks to keep you purse from sitting on the restroom floor. Entercom in Denver did book marks because that’s what their listeners did at lunch; read.
For the streets in the summer? Logo’ed water, sun tan lotion, towels, tank tops, all are great. And don’t forget that you can totally overthink prizing: going out on a hot day and doing Popsicle Drops at road construction or with other seasonal outdoor workers, is always a homerun.
What about bumperstickers? “Do people put stickers on cars anymore?” The answer is no. But then they never did. You’d hand them a sticker and 9999 out of 10,000 would end up on trees or venue walls. If you truly want to own the streets and make money and have amazing visibility, do the big 500 car sticker stops where you physically put stickers on the cars.
Teens and college students? Seriously? Do Not Disturb signs. They’re very inexpensive and savvy stations like B-96 in Chicago have sold the crap out of them. Also, for dorms? Dry erase boards.
It’s important to have a specialty item person you can task to keep you continually updated on trends. Ditto with being hyper vigilant on watching what the interns are doing and using and bringing with them. Carabiners for backpacks? The Beat in Vancouver had those just as the trend hit because Tracey Mills noticed one day that suddenly all the college help were using them.
Sadly, we’ve trained the audience that we will give them stuff. We’re the bad self-esteem medium: we feel like we need to give people stuff for them to like us. So, if we’re going to feed the addiction, then spend the money wisely on things that might actually have a lifespan and keep your brand top-of-mind.