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Are Bloggers Going Swag Crazy?



“There’s no good swag this year” said the attendee at South by Southwest Interactive. “What’s the use in coming if no one’s giving out any good stuff?”

“I don’t know,” I told him. “Maybe to learn and meet other terrific people?”

Are bloggers going swag crazy? Is it all about the merchandise and sponsorships? I never really thought about it before but as I find myself having to seek sponsorship to attend blogging and social media conferences, I’m wondering if we’re all selling our souls to the devil. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think sponsorship is a great thing.  Many bloggers need it to survive – we sell ads on our blogs, don’t we? Conference sponsorship takes advertising to a whole other levels and brands are doing a good thing by embracing us. At what cost, though? Expecting a lot of stuff in return for a blog post seems to be taking priority over providing quality and enlightening content.I don’t think sponsorship is a bad thing if done correctly…if we keep it under control.

Swag, on the other hand is a whole other ball game.  I was thinking about this the other day after watching Chris Brogan’s video about that ugly little incident between the BlogHer attendee and Croc’s George Smith, Jr. I won’t get into too many details, but I do think the idea of getting lots of free stuff is keeping us from doing lots of good stuff. For instance, I’d much rather attend a kickass session than stand in line for a tshirt or box of laundry detergent. I’d much rather have dinner with folks I’ve networked with on Twitter and am finally getting a chance to meet, than fight over a pair of shoes in a swag lounge. I’d much rather see a demo of a new tool or service that can help  my readers and me, than troll the conference floor for keychains.

Don’t get me wrong. I love free stuff and I do take home swag from conferences, but that’s not front and center. I mean, do I really need another be-logo’ed plastic slinky or gel yoyo? (Though in all fairness, they make great “souvenirs” when you don’t have time to find gifts for your kids, if you know what I mean.) I love free stuff, but I would attend conferences even if vendors were only giving out business cards and marketing brochures.Are we losing site of what we’re there for?

I realize bloggers are influential, but are we using our power for evil or good?  Brands are right to reach out to us as we have the ability to reach thousands, if not (collectively) millions of people.  Let’s not turn it against our favor though. Are we blogging to teach and to share, or are we blogging in return for stuff? If we are blogging in return for stuff, how honest are our reviews?

I’m often written off as being “old school” but I don’t mind. Old school blogging had a warm and fuzzy vibe. It was about sharing. It was about community. It was rarely about stuff though, and I like it that way.


  • Rebecca Laffar-Smith

    I guess that makes me old school too. I do appreciate when brands send me freebies to review but I also make it very clear that I give balanced reviews. At the end of the day, they take a risk sending me their product because I talk about what I don’t like just as much as I talk about what I do. I guess that is the real trick, having enough faith in your product to put it to the test.

    Vanity reviewing on the other hand is brutal for all of us.

    When it comes to conferences I go for the education. In fact, there weren’t freebies at the last one I went to. I paid a good chunk of money to attend from flights, to hotels, to conference fees, and then bought some goodies while attending. In total it cost thousands of dollars but it repaid that expense in education and networking.

  • Lynn

    If I would have gone to Blogher for the freebies, it would have been a home run. But I went for the education, and barely hit a single.

    I think the whole swag haggishness of that conference is a reflection of our consumer society. We can be bought, and the marketers and “sponsors” of the private parties went well out of their way to buy us.

  • Dr Wright

    I love SWAG! It can give you great marketing ideas and it’s fun!

    Dr. Letitia Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show

  • Melanie Nelson

    Since my first blogging conference in 2007 I’ve thought I could do without so much swag. I’m with you: I’d rather be networking or learning than standing in line for one more t-shirt. If it’s useful, great. If they run out and I don’t get one, no big. I think I give more swag away before I leave than I keep. (I didn’t attend BlogHer this year, but last year they had a room set up where you could take the swag you didn’t want. Then others could come get it if they wanted it. Anything left was given back to the original vendor. A good idea, I thought.)

    I’m ashamed to be lumped with any bloggers that would be so eager to latch onto companies simply for free stuff. Everything in moderation.

  • Shannon (

    Deb – Great points, as usual. I sometimes wonder why marketing companies don’t give away useful items to get their money’s worth? Those little mini mouse logo items are practical, as is a coffee mug (http://www.shannonlane.com/press-trip-swag-the-underappreciated-coffee-mug/).

    I did learn a little bit at Blogher, but have to admit that I learned more at BWE and SxSw. Also, while I do love networking and dinners with people I already know, I make it a point to meet new people and expand my circle of social media friends.

    Are we selling our souls? Maybe some are. I mean, who doesn’t like free stuff, but it will get old for these bloggers after a while. Plus, you have to be true to yourself and your readers if you want them to stick around and take you serious.

  • Jyl (Mom It Forward)

    I think there has to be a happy medium. I will admit to loving some of the swag from BlogHer. I came home with a new product from Bounce that I have loved and will continue to buy, because it means no more dryer sheets. I loved learning about the product, trying it out, and becoming a loyal fan. Don’t know that I would have purchased one so soon, so that was a score for me.

    I also think that meeting and interacting with the brands is a powerful part of the experience, regardless of the conference you’re at. So, if there can be a happy medium where useful swag is provided to educate us about product, where people can be civil about getting it or not getting it, and bloggers can build relationships with each other and the brands, then I think that’d equal success in my book.

    Finally… none of it should come at the expense of the learning. Solid sessions are a must!

    Just my 2 cents! Great post!

  • Jane Gassner

    The worthiness of swag, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Laundry products and recipes for using processed foods are junk, as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t expect anything good this year at BlogHer because last year, which was the first to focus so much on the Mommyblogger was such a bust. The last time I really got good swag was at BlogHer’07. I’m still using the incredible laptop/briefcase bag that AOL gave out. Most of the companies in the past two years are marketing to the Her part of BlogHer and ignoring the more important Blog part.

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