Salt & Pepper #3 - Swag.

Welcome to Salt & Pepper! Salt & Pepper is basically the PromoKitchen equivalent of debate team. The purpose of this monthly article is to open up discussion and conversation on different challenges facing the Promotional Products Industry. This month we tackle the industry debate on the use of the word swag. PromoKitchen chef Kirby Hasseman and industry veteran Bill Petrie have flipped a coin to see who is pro and who is con.  Their respective arguments are below  What are your thoughts on each side? We welcome your comments!

NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intended to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


Pepper: No Swag for Me - Bill Petrie

First and foremost, I don’t hate the word “swag.” I know that many people in the industry use that term to describe their business and how they go to market and if it works for them and their target audience, who am I to judge? Even so, I don’t understand why so many people are so quick to jump on the bandwagon to use it for three very simple reasons:

Swag is Overused and (Soon to be) Anachronistic – When you hear the following words, what comes to mind?

  • Bodacious
  • Airhead
  • Bogus
  • Gag me with a spoon
  • Tubular
  • Grody
  • Where’s the Beef?

About 30 years ago, these words and catch phrases were everywhere. In fact, on a daily basis you would hear most – if not all – of these from your local morning DJ as you put on your Benetton shirt carefully over your parachute pants, sprayed your hair with half a can of Aqua Net, and grabbed your Members Only jacket in preparation for school. My point is that the above terms/phrases that were once everywhere have now become a punchline relegated to irony, and the term “swag” will likely join their ranks shortly.

Political Poison – When politicians look to score a few points with their constituency by slashing wasteful spending out of municipal, state, or federal budgets, they really like to attack our industry. Almost universally, they will use the word “swag” as a pejorative reference to promotional products as a prime example of reckless spending. Elected officials wouldn’t get nearly as much mileage by using the term “promotional products”, “branded merchandise” or even “advertising specialties.” They use “swag” because they know it strikes a negative chord within people. I’m not saying politicians are right (especially on this issue), but the meaning of the word has been colored in a negative light far too often for professional use or positive client impact.

Self Destructive – “Swag” is generally recognized as an acronym for “Stuff We All Get.” While amusing, it’s not terribly professional. Think about some of the other terms that people use to describe promotional products:

  • Tchotchkes
  • Trinkets and Trash
  • CPS (Cheap Plastic S#!*)

Do any of the above make you feel like a professional? Odds are that many feel the same way that I do: the above terms cheapen what we do in the minds of many clients and don’t even approach creating value. I put “swag” in the same boat. Like the above terms, “swag” cheapens what we do and reduces the value our industry provides.

I’m neither old, nor stuck in the past, nor am I saying a marketing variation of “get off my lawn.” I do, however, recognize that words have meaning – both intended and unintended. Here’s the thing, I don’t care if anyone uses the term “swag” in reference to their promotional products business. I really don’t. But understand your target audience and how they perceive the term. As with many things, it’s not what we think a word means, it’s about what the client feels when they hear it.


Salt: I've Got Swag. Do you? - Kirby Hasseman

So while I respect the opinion of Bill Petrie, I file this discussion under “We all need to lighten up.” 

I understand his point of NOT minimizing the value of our media. Personally, I don’t like the term “tchockes” and “trinkets and trash” makes my blood boil. So I get it! We want to make sure we are not undermining our own industry.

But here’s why SWAG is not diminishing Promo:

SWAG is GOOD! I think the people who are against this term are under the assumption that SWAG stands for “Stuff We All Get”, but when I think of SWAG that is not what I see. I don’t think younger people do either! Many consider having “SWAG” (short for Swagger) as an awesome thing. So SWAG is branding our industry cool and hip. Don’t believe me? Ask someone who doesn’t have gray hair. 

SWAG has High Value: The bags that actors receive at the Oscars are called SWAG. Inside you will find a treasure trove of goodies that have $85,000 in value. These are items that Hollywood A-Listers are excited to receive! Trust me, this is not Stuff We All Get. If anything, SWAG increases the perceived value of what we sell!

SWAG is Relevant: Look around gang; SWAG is a term that is totally relevant in our current culture! So by shunning it, we are taking ourselves out of the conversation. We need MORE relevance in our industry if we want to attract better and better talent!

It’s ironic really: We want more millennials to come into our industry right? But when they use slang or don’t wear a tie, some industry veterans treat them as if they are disrespectful or unprofessional.

Long story short, I think this “SWAG-hate” sometimes makes us look like the old man standing on his front porch waving his fist screaming, “Damn you kids! Get off my lawn!”

Let’s embrace the term!

I've got SWAG! Do you?