Trade Shows

Do’s and Don’ts of Swag

There is good swag and bad swag. Guest contributor Claire Repass lays down some rules.

Guest blogger Claire Repass, CMP, manager of communications at Social Tables, reported live from the IMEX America 2014 show floor at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas. Claire serves as committee chair for Women In Travel (WINiT), and is actively involved in the MPI, IAEE and PCMA communities.

With more than 3,000 booths on the IMEX America 2014 show floor, attendees had a smorgasbord of swag options to choose from. Some was good. Some was bad. And some was ugly. Here are five examples of great swag spotted on the show floor — and three strategies that failed to make an impression.

 Swag Do’s

1. Food. Specifically, food with cultural twist. It wins every time. The Munich Convention Center staff dressed in lederhosen to lure attendees into a Biergarten-themed booth using massive, warm pretzels.

Visit Hawaii's leis. Photo by Claire Harrington

2. Leis. Visit Hawaii was hospitable as always, greeting their appointments with a fresh lei placed over their heads. They were beautiful, smelled amazing, and created the kind of experience the destination is pitching. Smart.

3. Branded sunglasses. This isn’t new, but it sure is effective. I counted seven booths handing out neon-hued, company branded sunglasses. The beauty of the branded sunny is its longevity. No one throws away sunglasses. At worst, if the attendee who snagged a pair doesn’t want to be a walking billboard, they’ll bring them home to be snatched up by colleagues.

Infusion Water Bottle bar. Photo by Claire Harrington

4. Infusion water bottles. Visit Charlotte crushed it with a DIY fruit-infusion bar at the front of their booth, where attendees grabbed a branded infusion water bottle, and filled it with ice-cold water and scoops of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, lemons, mint, or strawberries. This item was so popular that by 2 p.m, on Day 1, Visit Charlotte had to limit the bottles to those with appointments.

5. Auxiliary phone chargers. EventMobi’s branded phone chargers turned out to be a brainy move. There were no phone-charging stations on the show floor (not good), so dying batteries were the norm, not the exception. If you find swag that proves to be genuinely useful to your would-be customers, they’ll love you.

Swag Don’ts

Booths with the lowest amount of traffic, I observed, were those which offered the following items:

1. Mini candy bars. I have a sweet tooth that rivals Willy Wonka’s, but I have no interest in a mini Butterfinger bar sitting in a plastic bowl. If you’re going to do candy (which is a do), brand it and make it big. The Grand Rapids CVB handed out massive candy bars in wrappers that read: “Cool City. Sweet Treat.” Cheesy? Sure. Effective? Absolutely.

2. USBs. Stop. Just no. No one uses USBs. And those who do, bring their own.

3. Nothing. There’s competition out there. If you have nothing to lure people into your booth, what’s your go-to move when trying to convince someone to stop by your booth?

Something else I noted about these booths: the staff looked miserable. Is there a correlation between swag, attendee engagement, and the investment of an exhibitor in their product? I say yes. It stands to reason that if you don’t offer something tangible to interest attendees, your booth traffic will decrease, and leave the exhibitor staff bored or daydreaming.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.