Swag bags are a good way for events to offer a perk to shoppers. They also give businesses that continue an item, a marketing opportunity.
Unfortunately, they’re often filled with items shoppers won’t use, don’t necessarily want, and may end up tossing.
Swag bag items should give you a return on investment. Otherwise, they’re a waste of time and money.
This article offers creative ideas for swag bags and will be helpful to anyone creating or contributing to a swag bag.
What is a swag bag?
A swag bag is a gift or goodie bag that is handed out to guests or shoppers of an event, such as a trade show, craft fair, fundraiser, or even at races, concerts, and award shows. They’re typically smaller gift bags, reusable shopping bags, or totes filled with small items from a variety of businesses. Shoppers/attendees do have to carry these bags around the event, so they aren’t too big or filled with heavy or large items.
Why do events hand out swag bags?
Swag bags are a perk events such as trade shows and craft fairs offer to encourage shoppers to show up, and show up early. Often, a free swag bag will be given to the first 25, 50, or 100 people (or more or less, depending on the size of the event). They give people who are interested in attending the event, a little extra incentive.
How much do swag bags cost?
Swag bags are free to the recipients but can cost contributors hundreds of dollars. If an event is handing out 25 swag bags, and a vendor is contributing an item that costs somewhere around $2 – $5, the vendor is spending $50 – $125 to participate in the swag bag.
Event organizers typically rely on “donations” for swag bags, but they still have the cost of purchasing the bags to hold the swag, as well as the hours required to gather the swag, assemble the bags, and hand them out to shoppers.
For events such as trade shows and craft fairs, event organizers look at swag bags as a way for vendors to advertise their business. Some event organizers charge vendors a fee to contribute, although most treat the items vendors contribute as the fee.
Are swag bags worth it?
As a business owner, swag bags are worth your time and money if you plan an item that appeals to not only your target market but also the event’s target market.
A swag item is only worth your time/money if it leads to more sales.
For example, let’s say I’m a stationery vendor selling at a “Mom & Tots” craft show and I want to contribute to the swag bag. The event’s target market is “moms of babies and toddlers”. Although moms still require items such as Thank You cards, a generic greeting card isn’t clearly targeted towards moms. If I contribute a baby/kid-themed greeting card (e.g. a kid-themed thank-you-for-attending-my-birthday-party card), that’s an item that targets the event’s shopper. The shopper will now pay attention to the item and is more likely to find my booth at the event, and hopefully buy.
The items must also be low-cost to you, but be seen as higher-value to the recipients.
The cost for a business to contribute to a swag bag can add up quickly, so you must keep the cost of each item low. But if you simply throw a magnet with your logo on it or a business card, shoppers won’t see much value in that, will be more likely to toss your swag, and probably won’t make an effort to visit your booth (or online shop after the event).
As an event organizer, swag bags are a good perk that can attract more shoppers and help your event hit the ground running. They’ll require your time to organize the collection of the swag, market the swag bags to potential attendees, assemble the bags, and hand them out. But if they help attract more people to your event, they’ll be worth the cost.
Creative Swag Bag Ideas
Let’s look at some creative ideas for swag bags. You’re likely already aware of the low-cost items you can print your logo on. But if you’re a business selling at a craft fair or trade show, you have something to sell and should donate swag bag items related to that product/service.
Since the majority of Made Urban’s readers are crafters, the majority of ideas apply to handmade businesses. However, they may spark ideas for you, even if you don’t run a handmade business.
1) Generic Swag
When providing more generic items to a swag bag (i.e. items your business doesn’t produce or sell), it’s important to add wording that relates the item to your business. Simply printing your business’s name, or its logo, on a random item won’t garner much attention or future business.
Below are some of the more common swag bag items with examples of how a business could make them more relevant to their brand:
- Snacks – choose an edible product that can be related to your business/brand/products in a fun way. For example, a photographer may put together small candy bags with a sticker that reads “Capturing your life’s sweet moments”.
- Notepads – have your logo and website URL printed on each page, but also a tagline that will give more meaning to the notepad and get shoppers relating it to your business. For example, a business that sells cleaning products may turn the notepad into a checklist with the words “A clean home is a happy home” printed at the top.
- A plant or seeds – this type of item can point out how a business helps “grow”, “cultivate” or “care for” their customers or community. For example, a business selling home decor items may print “Helping you grow your house into a home” on a packet of seeds.
- Candles – these are often associated with relaxing, slowing down, or calm. If your business helps customers reduce stress, come up with a phrase to print on the candle’s label.
- Mugs or tumblers – coffee and tea are often related to waking up, getting energized, or even slowing down and enjoying the little things in life. A logo and tagline that relates a product to coffee or tea time can work for a variety of businesses. For example, a family photography business may print “Life is about the little moments. Let me help you capture yours.” on a coffee mug.
- Gift tag sets – this may work if the products you sell are commonly purchased as gifts. Create a set of gift tags that follow the theme of the event (e.g. home & garden, mom & tots, Christmas, etc.) and add a sticker with text explaining how your products make the perfect gifts. For example, a set of Christmas gift tags for an event close to the holidays with a sticker that reads: “Helping you make short work of your long Santa list ~ Handmade toys by X”.
- Reusable grocery or produce bags – with most grocery stores getting rid of plastic bags, more people are using reusable grocery bags. Instead of your logo on the bag, include a clever phrase that makes the bag more interesting. For example, a soap business may print “What goes in your body and on your body matters ~ Handmade soaps using ingredients safe enough to eat”.
- Sample sizes of your products – you may be able to create small sizes of your products or offer free trials if you’re selling a service.
2) Incomplete Items
Offering part of an item can encourage more shoppers to visit your booth. The item may be a mystery to them but has a note attached reading: “Find _____ vendor booth to complete this item”.
Give away half an item in the bag and the other half at your booth so they need to stop by to complete it; once they’re there you have the opportunity to show them other products and potentially make a sale.
Or you can give an item that is useful on its own but requires a purchase from you to take it to the next level.
- Jewelry vendor – include a simple bracelet chain that they can complete with charms you sell.
- Knitted goods vendor – place one boot cuff in each swag bag with a note to find you for the other.
- Bath & Body vendor – give a sample of Step 1 of your 4-Step facial cleansing process; include a note that this is just a start and to visit you to find the other products that make product #1 even more effective.
- Food & drink vendor – a small empty candy bag they can fill up with your candy or snack mixes, or a cup with your branding and a note asking them to stop by and sample your hot apple cider.
- Art vendor – an empty frame they’ll want to fill with your art, or for a more cost-effective version, a photo frame greeting card (like these) they slide one of your prints into. Allow them to stop by and choose a print of their choice from your selection.
- Home & office vendor – one coaster and they can buy a full set from you. Or, a votive candle holder they can fill with one of your candles.
Getting them started with a swag item but requiring them to stop by to complete it will get more people intrigued and interested in visiting your booth.
3) Novelty items
What would be something unexpected but related to your business or brand? If adding your products to swag bags is too expensive, brainstorm some fun novelty items that will catch shoppers’ attention and that you can tie back into your business. For example:
- Jewelry vendor – you may place a candy necklace in a swag bag if you sell jewelry that’s “really sweet”.
- Knitted goods vendor – static guard or a frizz control hair product to protect the wearer of your knitted hat from hat hair.
- Bath & Body vendor – a stress reliever ball may help you advertise your stress-relieving bath products.
- Art vendor – a little piggy bank might be great to advertise your art that won’t break the bank.
If you create your products, you likely have leftover materials you can turn into something of value. Be sure the item doesn’t feel like a “leftover”. Create smaller versions or sample sizes of your products or design a new product that will show shoppers the quality of your work. For example:
- Accessories – if you make handbags, you could sew coin purses, keychain fobs, or sunglass cases from leftover fabric.
- Jewelry – make keychains, hair clips, or phone charms from leftover beads.
- Knitted Goods – make small crocheted ornaments for Christmas using the ends of a yarn bundle, or reusable cotton rounds.
- Bath & body – create sample sizes of your best-selling products.
- Food & Drink – snack size is obviously the way to go.
- Art – take a print of your best-selling piece and use it to create bookmarks, magnets, greeting cards, or gift tags.
5) Complementing products
Think about items you can buy wholesale, for a good price, that will complement your products. When shoppers buy from you, they’ll have a handy tool that can be used with your products. For example:
- Jewelry – buy polishing cloths and stamp your logo on them. These can be used to clean the jewelry they buy from you.
- Knitted Goods – something they can clip onto their hat, scarf, or mittens such as a bow, button, or even a pompom that can be attached to a winter hat.
- Bath & Body – facecloths they can use with your products or a scrunchie to keep their hair out of their face while applying your skincare products.
- Food & Drink – metal spoons to stamp your name, logo, or initials on that people can use to dish up your dips and sauces or stir your drink mixes.
- Art – a kit for hanging your art on their walls; perhaps picture hooks and a novelty hammer or a small level to make sure their art is hung straight.
- General – gift tags could be used for the shopper to put on the gifts they buy from you.
How to come up with a good swag bag item
It’s hard to write a list of ideas that are right for your business because a good swag bag item should be tailored to your business, your target market, and the event’s target market.
Here are some questions to explore to help you come up with the right swag bag item.
Who is your target market?
Keep your ideal shopper in mind and what they hope to get from your products. Your swag bag item should relate to that benefit.
For example, a vendor that sells environmentally friendly products has a target market interested in the environment. They buy environmentally friendly products to reduce their carbon footprint. Their swag bag items should be related to that benefit.
If you’re not sure who your business’s target market is, this will teach you a trick to find a profitable target market).
What will it be useful?
Tying into #1, consider what the receiver will find useful. You don’t want the shopper to toss your freebie in the trash once they head out the door so try to include something that will be memorable and functional.
You want to give away swag that will either encourage shoppers to buy from you that day or be something they want to hang onto or display to remind them of your business and hopefully encourage them to buy in the future.
What will get noticed?
Many shoppers will take a quick peek in the bag as opposed to going through each item right then and there. Think of an item that will stand out so they either want to immediately take a closer look or use it right then and there.
Edibles or items people would carry on them (i.e. hand cream or lip balm) are a good place to start or you can get creative and make items that stand out due to their size, cuteness, uniqueness, or wow-ness factors.
What will “wow” shoppers?
If you want your swag bag item to encourage sales, it should impress shoppers.
Let’s say I’m a bath and body vendor and I’ve contributed lip balm to the swag bags. If a shopper takes the item out, applies it, and it’s your average vanilla-flavored lip balm, they won’t pay much attention to it. On the other hand, if it tastes and smells just like a rootbeer float, they’re going to take a second to look at the tube to see who made it.
What will encourage a sale?
Coupons on their own may be missed but if you attach one to an item they immediately want to take a closer look at, you can get them to take notice of the deal and nudge them toward your booth.
Create a promotion for the event that swag bag receivers can take advantage of if they stop to see you. Be sure you’re not dropping your prices to the point you don’t make a profit but a little perk can result in more sales.
Is it budget friendly?
Advertising is an expense of doing business but make sure you’re not going to break the bank to contribute an item. It’s unlikely you’ll get a sale from every swag bag receiver but make sure your return on investment makes sense.
Let’s say you’re spending $5 per item in material and time and have 25 bags to fill. Do you think the cost of your swag will bring in at least $125 worth of business?
If you can’t think of a worthwhile item to contribute to each swag bag, see if there’s an option to contribute to a portion of the bags.
Can you work together?
If you’re having trouble thinking of an item to contribute that’s significant enough, consider if there’s another vendor you can work with to create one swag item that uses both your products.
For example, someone who crochets may offer a small soap-saver bag and team up with a soap maker who can place a sample-sized bar of soap in each bag.
Be sure that each item is clearly labeled and points out that they are made by different vendors (you don’t want one person getting all the glory).
- Keep it on-brand – if what you have time or money to contribute isn’t going to leave a good impression on bag receivers, think about skipping it altogether. A poorly made swag item won’t encourage shoppers to buy the real thing and may damage your brand.
- Use that bag as an ice breaker – “Oh good, you got a swag bag! My _______ swag is in there, here’s a larger version of it” or point out another item that compliments it.
- Make it easy for the event organizer – your item should stay clean and tidy in the bag. No multiple pieces that will get lost in there, require assembly by the organizer, or be messy (no glitter or confetti!). And be sure to get your item to them on time.
- Don’t forget to tag the item – although I don’t recommend business cards as your sole contribution, be sure you’re attaching one to your swag item. If they love it, they need to know where to find you. Bonus if you know your booth number/table location ahead of time: add a sticker that states “Find me at booth #___”
- Make sure it’s valuable – keep in mind that event promoters want to be proud of the swag bags they’re handing out, and let’s be honest, a bag full of printed promotional material isn’t that exciting.
Brainstorm ideas until you find the right fit, and don’t spend time and money contributing items that won’t give you a return on investment.
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Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!