Swag. All that free stuff the stars get. They all scramble for it. It's what's in the bag.
Academy Awards: Culture of Swag
CEO, WORKHOUSE (www.workhousepr.com)
Thursday, March 2, 2006; 2:30 PM
Adam Nelson , CEO of Workhouse Publicity of New York, was online Thursday, March 2, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the culture of swag: how it started, how big a business it's become and what the freebies might be for this year's Academy Awards.
Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.
A transcript follows.
Adam Nelson: Greetings:
It's great to be here. Thanks kindly to the Washington Post for having me.
I very much look to answering your questions today.
Fairfax, Va.: So what is swag and who gets it?
Adam Nelson: 1. swag
Promotional merchandise for a band, record label, or other entity in the business, usually distributed.May include t-shirts, stickers, etc. Often free, but not necessarily; a
The chief difference between swag and regular merchandise is that its purpose is not to make a profit, but to promote the product, and reward its supporters by giving away something cool and unique. Example: I picked up some great swag at the concert last night.
Originally conceived at the Academy Awards in 1989 as a way to thank actors for presenting awards at the Oscars, the gift basket has in recent years outgrown its origins to become a marketing juggernaut in its own right, in some cases all but overtaking the events themselves. Leading and emerging brands seeking product placement opportunities align themselves with award shows, movie premieres, film festivals, gifting suites for added-value. Often these brands pay upwards of $20,000 for the opportunity, the bags themselves contain roughly $62,000 worth of product. Sultans of Swag pay top dollar to establish a temporary relationship with celebrities of almost any caliber who willingly or unwillingly serve as unofficial "brand" ambassadors. The increased exposure and brand awareness leads to sales. In theory it's not so very different from fashion designers dressing celebrities for the big show, each is after the holy grail: On-Air Placement.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi Adam --
Can you give me more details on the $25,000 Hawaiian trip?
Adam Nelson: Yeah, that is the $25,000 question.
How does one get to Hawaii--- practice, practice, practice.
Following is a list of products, trips and "swag" offered within the 2003 Oscar Gift Basket:
-- Apple Computer gift certificate ($300)
-- Three-night stay at the Esperanza resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico ($3, 000) or Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe (San Diego County)
-- SkinCeuticals skin care products: antioxidant serum, skin lightener and sunscreen lotion ($208)
-- Dinner party at Morton's steakhouse ($1,500 gift certificate) and a set of six steak knives
-- Two-night stay at the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts' Willow Stream spa (six locations)
-- Gaiam's Organic Night's Sleep Bag ($475) including sheets, blanket and alarm clock
-- Custom shirt from Oliveri Fashion ($100 to $300)
-- Four-night stay at Rosewood's Badrutt's Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, during the 2003 or 2004 summer season ($1,500)
-- Charles Worthington shampoo and conditioner made of champagne extract and truffle oil, with a diamond hair pin designed by Erikson Beamon ($2,000)
-- Jean Patou Enjoy perfume, not yet available in stores ($85)
-- Kiehl's Academy Collection of skin care products ($200)
-- Beamer Phone Video Station
-- Amy Reiley's Pocket Vineyard and Amy Reiley's Pocket Gourmet software for Palm OS devices and Pocket PCs
-- Palm Pilot software
-- KATA Eyewear by Blake Kuwahar Sesna sunglasses ($350)
-- Danier Leather flask with two shot glasses ($28)
-- Jay Strongwater mirror compacts with salamander or frog detail adorned with Swarovski jewels ($275-$325)
-- "Handbags World According to Jess" book
-- A.T. Cross Liquid Saffron Ion Pen
-- SkyMeals gift certificate ($150)
-- Sanyo 5300 Camera Phone with one year of free service from Sprint
-- Sleep Number Bed by Select Comfort ($2,600 gift certificate)
-- Cargo cosmetics in sterling silver gift box ($600)
-- Nomination Composable Charm Bracelet made of stainless steel, 18-karat gold and precious stones
-- Christofle Collection 3000 silver cocktail spoon
-- Dooney & Bourke leather tassel bag
-- Leather Accent Table from Thomasville Furniture Bogart Collection ($840)
-- Revlon cosmetics Red Carpet Bag
-- Trip to Kenya from Micato Safaris
-- A.T. Cross Ion Pen with gel-ink ($25)
-- Giorgio Armani cosmetics ($250)
Georgetown, Washington,D.C.: I am deeply offended by swag excess. If talent and organizers had even an inkling of moral conscience swag funds would be redirected towards charitable causes, especially now given Katrina, the Pakistan earthquake, etc. Both star and organizer would get positive publicity and a tax deduction.
Think about it. Does Paris Hilton need another $10K watch? Doubt it. Does some kid in New Orleans need a place to live? Definitely.
Adam Nelson: You're not alone. It's been said that it seems that the more celebrities make, the more freebies they take. Too true, Every year is the year of swag. It's really come into it's own. hit the pinacle and everything else is secondary.
But take heart, a change may be coming.
In Melissa Rayworth's recent article for the Associated Press she wrote:
And a handful of actors, including Lili Taylor and Daryl Hannah, opted to hand over their Sundance swag this year to an environmental charity called Global Green, as part of a campaign called "Got Plenty?," organized by the green-living magazine Plenty.
"We weren't shaming people," says Plenty's editor-in-chief, Mark Spellun. "The pitch wasn't just, `Hey, you've got $10,000 worth of merchandise under your arm, so give us some.'"
The donated items were being auctioned on eBay through the month of February, with the proceeds going toward efforts to stop global warming. Taylor, who donated some pricey skin care products, was happy to oblige.
"I crossed the swag line and found myself overwhelmed," she said through Plenty's publicist. "Then I saw `Got Plenty?' and they pulled me back over. Better to give than get."
Advertisers can only hope most celebrities don't agree.
Philadelphia, Pa..: Is swag taxable to those who accept it? If so, does the Academy provide a form indicating the reportable value of the swag?
Adam Nelson: Although I'm not an accountant I'd have to say that it falls under the category of "fuzzy math". I mean, it was a gift- wasn't it?
The New York Times published an article by Sharon Waxman in February which highlighted the following:
The gift phenomenon may create some unexpected problems for the organizations that sponsor them. At a recent board meeting of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, members fretted about what to do with their extra gift bags, valued at $62,000 each.
On the advice of its tax lawyer, the association decided that "none of the leftover bags may be given to any member, board or otherwise, or his family," according to the meeting notes. Lee Sheppard, a contributing editor to the tax journal Tax Notes, said that celebrities would do well to pay attention to the tax implications. "Queen Latifah is not getting a gift; Queen Latifah is getting income," Ms. Sheppard said, speaking hypothetically of the star. "And the company is having a deduction for a form of advertising. Tax law does not recognize this as a gift." Michael Harris, president of Paragon Business Management, who manages entertainment clients like the reality show star Jesse James, said, "If it's a fee for service, if you get this when you show up to do something, there would be taxable exposure." But the issue is complicated, he added, because of the varying values that might be placed on a gift. "The I.R.S.'s appetite to enforce this type of transaction would depend on the perceived value," Mr. Harris said.
Correction: Feb. 25, 2006, Saturday:
An article on Feb. 15 about promotional gifts to celebrities overstated the value of leftover gift bags at the recent Golden Globe awards ceremony, which the board of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association decided against distributing to association members. The value was about $1,300 each, not $62,000. (The higher amount was the value of gift boxes for celebrity presenters at the event; Philip Berk, the association's president, said none of those were left over.)
Harrisburg, Pa.: Is all swag equal, meaning does everyone get the safe gift bag, or are they different? If they are different, what are the differences? Are do the nominees for Best Actor and Actress get the same swag as the nominees for short films, editing, screenwriting, etc?
Adam Nelson: You can certainly bet that the bag given to the those brilliant editors, special effects teams, and musical directors are most certainly not getting what the Best Actor & Actresses are taking home.
Washington, D.C.: Do celebrities re-gift some of the items?
Adam Nelson: you bettcha!
Pittsburgh, Pa.: To me, it's seems so unseemly to hand out thousands of dollars of merchandise to people who could afford to go out and buy the stuff themselves and who don't need any of it. Of course, if the celebrities would have the gumption to say, "Hey, I don't need this stuff," the gift bag mania would go away.
For once, I would like one of these pampered celebs to either refuse the goodies or cash the stuff in and give the proceeds to their favorite charity. That would be Oscar-worthy to me.
Adam Nelson: I am in total agreement and couldn't have said it better myself.
Bethesda, Md.: Swag? Is this chat about Abramoff and the politically connected lobbyists in Washington and the Republican controled Congress? Just kidding. Don't hate me 'cause I wonk rather than go to movies. I did see and like Good Night, and Good Luck and I'm still marching with those penguins.
Will the American Idols be at the Oscars?
Adam Nelson: Swag Abramoff. It'll make a good movie.
Arlington, Va.: Do any of the stars donate their swag as a rule?
Adam Nelson: Not as a rule but you'll find it from those who use honor and integrity as a guide.
Washington, D.C.: Has anyone tracked the trajectory of the value of the swag packages? Is there an appreciable increase in their average values from year to year? Has the value ever gone down from year to year?
I know, weird question. Just wondering if this tracks to the economy at all.
Adam Nelson: Good question. The only thing that seems to devalue in years are my stocks.
Olney, Md.: This is unbelievable! All those gifts in one bag? Tell us some items that'll be in this year's, please.
Adam Nelson: The academy does not permit companies to reveal their participation in the official gift basket until the end of the month, but you can bet it's similarly extravagant.
Washington, D.C.: Does your company participate in the promotion of Hollywood stars and merchandise? What role do you and your company, Workplace, play in all this?
Adam Nelson: My company Workhouse Publicity is a full-service agency and information on our services and accomplishments can be found below this response. Ideally, I am wholly devoted to the elevation of a brand based on their Intrinsic value or heritage. I don't necessarily subscribe to the position of "get famous fast" meaning using a celebrity to endorse a product or service. That said, it's interesting to participate in these programs by NOT offering your goods for free. I'm a big believer in shocking the system or rocking the boat. We've had great success with clients like Carl F. Bucherer- one of Switzerland's oldest and most prestigious watch brands and 66?North Iceland- the nation clothing brand of Iceland by introducing their products and history to celebrities, one-on-one than we might have by simply gifting them with sway. Most celebrities are fallible and with one controversy they could end 100 years of brand-building with a single offense.
Instituted in 1996, Workhouse Publicity has produced over one hundred domestic and international publicity campaigns. The new definition of a full-service promotional firm, Workhouse specializes in the coordination of corporate and celebrity publicity, total design, luxury marketing and special events. Recent accomplishments include launch events at Versace, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Gracie Mansion, Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall. Client campaigns include Ultimate Style: The Best of The Best Dressed List at Gotham Hall, Dolce & Gabanna's Hollywood at Bergdorf Goodman with Jennifer Lopez, Gucci's so8o's boutique launch, Francis Ford Coppola's Festa Macaroni, Interview Magazine's 30th Anniversary, Virgin Megastore's Grand Opening and Galleries Lafayette's 20th Anniversary in France as well as bi-coastal productions of the 24 Hour Plays to benefit the NY State WTC Relief Fund with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosie Perez, Benjamin Bratt, Julianne Moore and more. Worldwide client campaigns have included promotional initiatives for Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Tim Burton, Debbie Harry, David LaChapelle and Lennox Lewis. Workhouse Publicity is a one-stop agency accommodating all aspects of publicity, design and promotion for the creation of marketing, advertising and special events located at 133 West 25th Street, No. 3W New York City 10001. For more information please visit www.workhousepr.com.
College Park, Md.: What do you think of the Sundance Film Festival now? It seems like it's gotten so very commercial now and is not so arty anymore and meaningful.
Adam Nelson: You've absolutely nailed it. That's the epicenter. Where it all really went wrong.
I believe it started with smart, creative individuals who did not have disposible income to spend on marketing and PR who were forced to come up with that one "big" idea. They were desperate and needed exposure quickly. Needed to create a buzz before the first of their two film screenings. As such, they would perform wacky stunts such as stitching a lable with the pertinent film information into ladies underware and littering Main Street with 100 pairs. From there it became about giving out hats with the name of the film sewn across the front. Then Mercedes came in with VIP transportation- breaking away from the Official Sundance Sponsors. A kind of renegade marketing position in the vein of Slamdance setting up shop at the same time to capitalize on the incoming celebrities and exposure. On and on it went until villas and houses, gifting lounges and photo studios with free gifts, to free dining halls and concert venues- all underwritten by major corporations or emerging brands.
This is a great post from IndieWire by Peter Bisk from a couple of years ago:
The first item thrust upon me: a gray acrylic ski hat and a pen light from The Screen Actors Guild -- given at Gate 53, LAX.
swag abounds. "Schwag" as well.
Schwag is stolen swag.
"Schwag" occurs when regular swag rises to the level of an irresistible must-have item.
The Holy Grail this year is the $1,300 Hugo Boss full-length, puffy, glow-in-the-dark winter coat.
Now here is where it gets really crazy. Diesel and M.A.C. put together a house to give their wares to celebs, VIP's and wayward journalists. This type of "give-away" attracts the highly impressionable Sundance herd; the mob that forms outside hard-to-get-into parties and oversold screenings. This herd gives no warning, there is no dust cloud on the horizon, no thundering stampede felt underfoot. But by the time I got to the Diesel/M.A.C. house, full boxes of clothing had been stolen, samples were cleared off of racks, make-up artists' personal supplies were pillaged. Not to worry, at the Diesel/William Morris Agency party that night I was able to secure a great swag bag containing an insanely warm Diesel down vest, Diesel shoulder bag, a M.A.C. make-up bag with powder and lip stuff, Diesel Sightline shades and a Diesel mobile phone shoulder strap.
Another amazing locus of swag was the Motorola House, with corporate guests Reebok, Ray Ban and Ben & Jerry's. Here goes: 1) Motorola TalkAbout walkie-talkies - T6310 - 2 mile range/FM radio/Weather Channel (yes, I got two of them). 2) Reebok Trailzilla 2 DMX shoes, in a Sundance-only Silver -- I felt like I was walking on airbubbles. 3) Ray Bans: good to get a new pair. 4) Reebok Sundance-only orange turtleneck (moisture wicking, hydro-remove technology). 5) Ben and Jerry's Concession Obsession -- lots of bits of movie candy in vanilla ice cream. 6) Reebok ski cap and 7) a TV Guide mini t-shirt.
The early offerings this year included a chocolate cell phone from P.R. masters Dominion 3 and a chocolate thumb from Slamdance entry "Black Days." "Waking Life" [it's like "The Matrix" without the kung-fu or the robots] had a swell coloring book, replete with the Crayola primary colors, plus green. "Roof to Roof" gave out Nazook Armenian cookies (?) --they look tasty. Awesome doc "Chain Camera" donated disposable cameras (15 exposures). And the Sci-Fi Channel series "Exposure" had the best tripped-out, space-inducing flipbooks I've ever seen. I also got a Coach CD case from '80's teeny bopper Tiffany and her Happy Place pals (she's back and looking a lot like Barbra Streisand). Dog tags were offered from inspiring short "Offside," there were Zomba Music long-sleeved T-shirts and CD's from "Morning" and "Sangue Vivo," and sequined bandanas from China Moon rags, endorsed by Vivica, y'all. Condoms came from "Jack the Dog," with explicit directions for the uninitiated. And just in case you thought Sundance was a warm weather haunt, Skyy Cinema (Vodka) passed out 100 acrylic scarves and coats. Keep those lighters away.
Now these major corporations really do like helping out the indie film world, so don't be shy when your next production needs wardrobe and communication gear. And don't worry about having to shoot their logos in a close-up, it's not required. After just seven days of swag hounding, I feel like I've been rope-a-doped with promotion and marketing--I'm hoping to find the Samsonite party tonight, I'll need a new suitcase to get all this stuff home.
Next year, I figure Mercedes will be giving away their SUV's
Washington, D.C.: So is the purpose of swag with the Academy Awards to have the stars be linked with the particular product and then maybe later be seen in ads for it?
Adam Nelson: The Holy Grail: On-Camera Placement. That's the whole ball of wax.
College Park, Md.: Where are the bags given out and is there press coverage of that?
Adam Nelson: Depends on the spot.
Sometimes bags are delivered to hotel rooms pre and post show to both winners and losers. There is also a tremendous amount of renegade gifting lounges that have popped up in LA during the Oscars. Some advertisers, such as Motorola, have shied away from setting up a suites. Instead, they've created a permanent gifting office in Los Angeles, where stars can peruse their products in relative privacy.
As far as press goes, it's not exactly the kind of thing that most stars wanna get press on and limit the exposure or picture to "internal purposes only" which means brand websites or internal sales material but not ment for consumer publication.
Baltimore, Md.: Is the gifting in any bribing?
Adam Nelson: I think you're question is:
Can it be considered a bribe?
I'd have to say no. It's a token of esteem.
Washington, D.C.: Are you handling the Academy Awards this year?
Adam Nelson: No, we do not have clients involved this year
Clarendon, Va.: Why is this gifting thing getting so big? Every year it seems like you hear more about it (Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, the networks all mention it at Oscar time).
Adam Nelson: Seems that the general public shows more and more interest for what a celebrity wears, eats, etc. TV is just giving the public what they want.
D.C.: Does Paris Hilton get one?
Adam Nelson: Doesn't she always?
Silver Spring, Md.: Ever do any publicity for actor James Franco?
Adam Nelson: No.
Anonymous: You're being facetious, yes?
Adam Nelson: Seems like my time is up. Thanks kindly again for having me. It was an absolute pleasure.
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