SWAG for language and literacy programs

Swag is an important part of your promotional strategy. Otherwise known as “freebies”, “goodies” or “loot”, these are the items you give away to people in the hopes that they remember your program in a positive way.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines swag as:

  1. (slang) ( a) The booty carried off by burglars, etc. (b) illicit gains
  2. (a) an ornamental festoon of flowers, etc. (b) a carved etc. representation of this
  3. (Australia & NZ) a traveller’s or miner’s bundle of personal belongings.

Marketing swag has elements of all these definitions. We hope that people will carry their swag with them in their briefcase or backpack (i.e. their “bundle of belongings”). Swag is now considered de rigueur as part of “table decor” at trade shows. It is a necessary accessory to the adornment of any promotional booth. People love it because it is free, so they make off with it like hot cakes, often sheepishly tucking it into their bags with a slight feeling of either guilt or glee, possibly both.

Recently though, I came across a definition of swag that I like even better. In a 2007 blog post, Suzette Bergeron, a marketing expert in Maine defines swag as “Stuff We All Get”. She goes on to explain different types of swag such as promotional giveaways, prizes and business gifts. For those of you who work in with international clients, you know how important those business gifts can be when working with certain countries.

So rather than the traditional definition, I’m going to go with Bergeron’s. It’s easy to remember and it conveys the idea of marketing swag perfectly.

Swag for language and literacy programs should relate to your program somehow. Remember to include your logo and program name, and if there’s space your website.  The items need to reflect your purpose, your image and hopefully be useful to the recipients. Pens, pads of paper, book bags and even portfolios are all excellent swag ideas for language and literacy programs. Baseball caps, not so much. That is, unless you are offering an ESL program for baseball players. I’d also hesitate to go with items such as breath mints, eye glasses cleaning cloths and toys, all of which I have seen at educational trade fairs. When I see items like this, I scratch my head. I understand that they are novelty marketing items, but I question their longevity in the hands of the recipient once the novelty has worn off. Before you spend your money on swag ask yourself what is going to be most useful to those on the receiving end. You want them to hold on to it, make it part of the bundle of things they carry with them for a long time and most importantly, remember you by it.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

5 Responses to SWAG for language and literacy programs

  1. Language plays a very important role in the life of human beings. We use language from the moment we wake up in the morning till we go to bed at night.

  2. Elizabeth (Beth) Hodder says:

    Fantastic work Sarah!!
    Extremely informative re literacy and proper language or lack of.

  3. Esther Vardy says:

    My personal favourite definition is the term ‘booty’. Great post! People should never underestimate the power of swag. Through personal experience at tradeshows, the booths with giveaways get more attention indeed! Never a waste of money if done right.

  4. Andy Bowers says:

    As someone in the Entertainment Industry who is knee deep in SWAG all the time, I found this article very interesting, humorous and a great explanation for those not in the know.

    The power of SWAG is a great one. I have seen many a person jump three rows in a packed movie theater in order to snag a free t-shirt being given away as a promotion. I’ve seen pages and pages of names listed in a notebook in the hopes of being awarded a Twilight Standee.

    Even the smallest key-chain, while most likely forgotten about hours or days later is a special thing in the eyes of most consumers. Getting something for nothing is indeed a trend I don’t see ever ending. Especially as SWAG is often perceived as an item only a select few will ever possess.

    SWAG is something that is very much an “in the moment” reward. Instant gratification for a few seconds and then in most cases pawned off on your children or relatives to the same affect.

  5. hyaniv says:

    I like loot 🙂

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