The Surprising Role Of Schwag In The Birth of Twitter


According to legend, eBay was started as a way to locate PEZ Dispensers. Who knew that Twitter, which went public last month and is now valued at $22 billion, got its start at a good old fashion swag party?

Let me explain.In July 2006, when Twitter was an unknown and fledgling texting service, an early employee (Noah Glass) attended a party called "Valleyscwhag Hoedown" in San Francisco. The focus of the party was to commemorate failed startups by gifting their branded t-shirts, stickers and bags to partygoers. Twitter's corporate parent at the time, Odeo, was among the startup wreckage so Odeo merch was also on display.Fuelled by Red Bull and Vodka, Noah enthusiastically showed the nascent Twitter to Om Malik, a popular tech blogger. Om signed up and tweeted "looking 4 food," and then blogged enthusiastically about the service the next day. This was one of the key events that ultimately fanned the flames that was to become the Twitter bonfire. Isn't it amazing that swag, even for failed companies, set the stage for the party that helped Twitter get off the ground?

It might be a stretch to say that swag (or schwag as they say on the left coast) was the glue that got Twitter off the ground. However, I am struck by how many times promotional merchandise worms its way into the narrative around a company's growth. Successfully done, merchandise is one of the best tools a company can use to establish an emotional connection with their customers.

In Twitter's case, a community of influencers were brought together to celebrate these failed companies through their branded merchandise. Even after these companies fizzled, their brands are immortalized on people's backs, over their shoulders or on their laptops.

Oh what I would do for a MySpace shirt.

How about you? Do you have a great swag story that showcases the power of our medium? Bonus points for a story where promotional merchandise starts a revolution, saves a life or reverses the fortunes of a failing company.