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The BIG BAG and a call to marketers

March 11, 2008

Wiley author Daniel Terdiman, who I met for the first time at SXSW, published a great piece revealing exactly what attendees at the conference received when they picked up their badges.  A bag.  A BIG BAG.  A BIG BAG full of stuff. 

As a SXSW newbee, I was surprised when after I got my badge I was told to go get my bag.  Cool, I thought, a fun pack o’swag.  Uh, no.  Not in the least.  A huge bag of flyers, postcards, and magazines, oh my.  CDs I’ll never listen to or use.  Guitar picks (ok, so I thought Little IT would like those).  And more stuff than I’ve ever seen from a conference.

I was horrified and a little bit ashamed to be a marketer at that moment.  Yes, we all want to promote ourselves here, but at what cost to the planet and the backs of the attendees carting this crap around.   Daniel wisely points out that the convention organizers encourage people to recycle the stuff by leaving it in the convention center if they aren’t going to use it.  But isn’t the path REDUCE reuse recycle?  Why make the crap in the first place. 

Agreed, we want to get into the minds of attendees.  Agreed, the conference needs the money that will come from these sponsorship deals.  But how can we do this better?

First, how about putting something useful in there?  A notebook or notepad, as old school as it seems, is great, because who has anything other than their laptops to take notes on.  A pen is also a good idea.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve need a pen here to not have one.  I like O’Reilly’s minibook – they had a game book in there with old school pen and paper games.  I saved that.

Next, how about using less paper?  A postcard directing me to a web site is better than a full catalog (I’m talking about you, New Riders).  Even so, there are a LOT of pieces of paper in there.  Card stock does stand out more, but again, is more costly and harmful to the environment.  I’m not all that crunchy, but seriously. 

But there has to be a better solution.  I’ve heard other marketers suggest a small slip of paper in the bag directed to a web site, but I want to think out of the box bag.  What can we do to get our message across, deliver sponsorship money to SXSW, and still not contribute to the heapload of crap that’s about to descend on the Austin TX landfills?

Marketers, the challenge is up to you.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. MR. IT permalink
    March 11, 2008 3:28 pm

    I certainly hope you left the bag in Texas… No need to clog up the house with the swag!

  2. motownmutt permalink
    March 11, 2008 4:39 pm

    Good point about at least making it useful or fun. A post-it pad with a translucent logo or website has a better chance of ‘sticking’ around for awhile than a glossy promotional card. Refreshing to hear your take on this.

  3. March 11, 2008 5:52 pm

    I think the BAG should be replaced by a RAG – or more specifically, a MAG. The thing is, all of that information could have been put together with some good information design into one printed piece – but of course, advertising in the official magazine versus getting into the BAG was probably a lot more expensive. So the entire model needs to be flipped – work more collaboratively with other people working to get the attention of attendees and like I have said before, make it more about the people receiving it and less about you as marketer and message. Be of service to the people you are hoping to reach, help them buy and stop trying to sell!

    Of course, the SxSW web site needs a complete makeover, witness the tons of independent scheduling guides that cropped up to help people make sense of it all – this is simply due to the fact that the organizers have not solved this problem at all. With all the great thinkers and designers we have in attendance, this should not be that hard to do…

  4. March 11, 2008 6:23 pm

    OK, so who needs to schlep crap home from a convention. I agree with you on that point. But I’ve been looking at the swag bags a bit differently these days, now that I’ve turned them into my reusable grocery bags. Have you considered using yours this way?


  5. March 12, 2008 8:37 am

    Motownmutt – Good point about the note pads. I saved the one from the big bag to take notes on.

    Chris – first, it was a pleasure meeting you at SXSW. Second, in the spirit of full disclosure, Wiley did have an ad in the conference program. I’m never sure how those are going to play out – they range from right on message and well seen to a total waste of time. This time, I felt like we scored. The ad, managed by our rock star marketer Kelly Trent, looked awesome. And, it was in the program, which if I lost it would have had to fork over $40 to get a new one, so you know it’s worth something. I’d definitely rather be in there, the MAG if you will, than the BAG at this show. That’s not to say that we have not done bag stuffers before. Sometimes, they’ve been a big hit, like at BlogHer last year where we did notebooks with blogging tips promoting our books in the front. I think that was a valuable thing for attendees. But after seeing THE BIG BAG, I think we all have to work harder to make sure what we are doing is right, for our message, the sponsor and the person getting the item.

    SXSW is evolving, thanks to the attendees, so this hopefully will too.

    Oh, and MR IT? The bags (I got the music and Interactive ones) came home, but the contents stayed in Austin. 🙂

  6. March 15, 2008 7:53 pm

    Hi Ellen. I can’t stand all that useless conference stuff. It makes me crazy and I always tote it home and feel guilty for throwing it away. I have to say though, I love the RWA conference where you get a bunch of Romance Novels in the conference bag. Now that is a true goody bag! I’m really looking forward to this year’s. The authors also give away lots of useful pens. Yay.

  7. March 17, 2008 7:36 am

    Kwana – thanks for posting about your experiences. You prove the point that if you put something of value in the bag, attendees will be happy and feel like they got something useful. We as marketers always have to think about what the people getting the bag will do with what’s inside – keep it, share it, or toss it – in making promotional decisions.

  8. Michael Lombardi permalink
    March 18, 2008 9:48 am

    I admit I don’t know about SxSW–or more importantly, I don’t know about their bags, but here are some thoughts since you asked:

    Why not use biodegradable bags? With soy-based ink for the imprint. Or drawstring or messenger bags?

    Contents should include paper (preferably bound as suggested by Chris Heuer) that has come from at least 80% recycled material.

    Also, promotional products are the answer to a lot of these problems. In the interest of full disclosure to those who have not read my blog, I am a promotional products supplier. Instead of a glossy 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, how about inserting a stadium cup with name, message, and website? Other great options in addition to the pen you mentioned: highlighters, yo-yos, recycled or biodegradable products, coasters, frizbees, koozies, hats, water bottles, stuffed animals, picture frames, crayons, jotter pads, silly puddy, tattoos, post-its, magnets, clips, mini tool kits, you get the point.

    Obviously without knowing the advertiser, their market, and their needs, I can only give general suggestions, but not too many people who get a yo-yo or jotter pad will toss it.

    FWIW, even at promotional products supplier tradeshows, we have to lug heavy bags full of stuff around. They usually bring random samples instead of specially made items just for the show. So you can get samples and then you take a catalog.

  9. March 18, 2008 10:21 am

    Michael – as I said in my post, I am in total agreement with you. A promotional product can be of use. What about a mug with a coupon for a free Starbucks beverage in booth XYZ? Might have let more people know that there was actually a show flor at SXSW. I like your thinking – we all need to be more creative to get our message out in a thoughful manner. Thanks for commenting!


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