SWAG Me, Baby!
“Freebies”, “giveaways”, or just plain old “swag”, you can’t come home from SIGGRAPH without a suitcase full of junk that vendors are just dying to give you. More than just flyers and informational CDs, which truly are promotional, many would say that the freebies are getting out of control. While I hate to bite the hand that feeds me, I thought that it would be interesting to delve a little into this quirky but common business practice.
Author: Jared Bendis - North East Ohio Chapter
I started by asking several of the companies that don’t give anything away why they don’t participate. The most logical of answers was "Because then you get people at your booth who just want stuff". Another company told me that "It's just not worth it" and another, that "It's money we'd rather spend on other things".
On the opposite side of this spectrum were the companies who apparently didn’t care what they gave out or to whom. When I asked one company why they gave out little flashlights, I was told that with “broad based products” it was good to “cast a wide net”. But as I stood there people ran up, grabbed their freebie and just walked away. Very few stayed to inquire about the actual product. Another example of misaligned freebies was at the booth for the furniture company Anthro. They gave away tape measures (a very clever little item since they sell space related products) as well as toothpaste squeezers. When I asked about the connection of toothpaste squeezers to furniture I was told, “Well, you will never forget us!” But won’t I? Several years ago someone gave me a plastic clip for holding the gas pump open; while I do remember this absurd item, I don’t remember who gave it to me.
The job fair also had its own fair share of swag. The boston.com booth had a variety of items including a toothbrush. A toothbrush! The woman at the booth explained to me that "It's difficult to read the paper when your teeth hurt" and then opened the box to show me the message printed on the handle “Boston.com 3x a day”. How many times do we really look at the pens, key chains, compasses, and flashlights that these companies give out? And does it ever really alter our purchasing decisions?
The 3D printer company Z-Corp no longer gives out free samples at their booth, although they did display a massive amount of items produced from their printers. I was told that the free samples were too simple and didn’t demonstrate the true potential of their products. Instead they give out informational CDs and invite potential customers to get a free printout of their own models via the website.
The Adobe representative I spoke with felt very strongly about the idea of giveaways, pointing out that the free trial CDs cost quite a bit to manufacture and that often the 30- day trial can be enough time to allow a student do an entire project.
The most interesting and absurd of my experiences on this reporting quest would have to that at the Autodesk event. A giant in the industry (selling Maya, 3DS, and Autocad) it is not surprising they had a big presence at SIGGRAPH. I attended a press function and upon entering was handed a box that I was told needed to be packed in my luggage as it contained something sharp inside. Both the press event and the public party that followed were magnificent – high quality food and an open bar. I asked one of the marketing folks from Autodesk how he felt about freebies. He told me that as a company they didn’t feel the need for freebies as “the products sold themselves”. When asked about the lavish party, he laughed and told me "my mother taught me if you invite someone to a party you provide them a drink." Seemingly contrary to his statements, the boxes given to members of the press were engraved with the word Autodesk and contained a wine kit including a corkscrew, foil cutter and bottle stopper. Others in attendance at the main party received t-shirts and “Autodesk Masters” received jackets and trophies!
Pixar, however, is one company that has turned its giveaway into cult icon. For the past few years they have given out tins which contain limited-edition numbered windup walking Renderman teapots (2,000 a day for 3 days). Renne Lamri, in charge of Renderman Events and Marketing for Pixar, was very proud of the teapots, noting that they are both “fun and informative” and that they give people an opportunity to grow their collection from year to year. Not only do they go for about $20 on eBay, they were also featured in this year’s Teapot Exhibition.
It is however important to note that it’s not all business and blind or lavish marketing. This year the Art Institute gave out a free CD that contained a video game. The game was developed by their students and was an opportunity for these students to represent themselves and their work in a public setting. Something such as this that gives students pride in their work needs to be encouraged and applauded.
Over the years I’ve gone to a lot of parties and acquired a lot of stuff: pens, yo-yos, matches, squishy balls, flyers, Frisbees, mouse pads, coasters, more t-shirts than I can count and, in fact, I once even got a pair of sneakers (from a company that surprisingly didn’t return the next year). As I was interviewing someone for this article, someone else ran up to him to grab a poster only to ask afterwards what was on it. “Its swag addition,” he told me (as he handed me a poster). “People just want stuff.”
This year’s haul!