The “S” Word


The following article was written by Danny Braunstein, vice president sales and business development-Western Canada at Talbot Promo. Last week, the promotional products industry was featured on the front page of the venerable Wall Street Journal. The focus of the piece was on ASI Chairman and industry pioneer Mr. Norman Cohn. To be sure, press of this magnitude is a tremendous coup for our industry, and we all owe kudos to the folks at ASI for orchestrating a significantly visible piece that benefits all of us.

The curious part of the article for me began with the headline "In the Land of Giveaways, Mr. Cohn is the Sultan of Swag."  "Swag," the oft used term by end-users, is a dagger in the heart of many industry professionals. Reporter Lucette Lagnado proceeds to "Drop the "S" bomb so frequently throughout the article that it starts to feel like a Lil Wayne concert (an additional 13 times to be exact).

My initial thought was that this must be purposeful positioning, perhaps an edgy industry re-branding of sorts, but my theory was quickly derailed by ASI CEO Tim Andrews who tweeted: "P.S. For my industry friends and colleagues:  While we lobbied to avoid "swag," it wasn't possible because that's what a lot people call it..."

But this concept did get my wheels spinning. Why not reclaim and embrace The "S" word? There has never been a more important time to try to attract a younger demographic to the promotional products industry. The word swag certainly resonates with the kids (can't believe I am old enough to say things like "the kids"), and it certainly has a positive connotation, so why not?

Beyond the reference to the ubiquitous gift bag of “stuff” or rock concert “giveaways,” the swag also suggests confidence (swagger). It is used by everyone from professional athletes to politicians to musicians. Heck, Justin Bieber even recently claimed his own variation: "Swaggie."

Our industry is so much fun, and the product we sell is arguably the most effective and measurable advertising medium available. And for some reason, unfortunately, we have never done a particularly good job of naming what we do. When you tell somebody at a cocktail party that you sell advertising specialties or promotional products, it often requires further explanation (insert your elevator pitch here). Whether you like the word or not, I would be willing to wager that if you followed up with "you know...swag…" most people would know what you were talking about.

I have been involved in this industry for most of my life. I grew up counting and folding t-shirts in my garage on the weekends, and I have a passion and respect for not only what we do but also for those that blazed the trail before me. To be clear, I still absolutely cringe when somebody confronts me with "trinkets and trash" or "CPS" or "tchotchkes," but I am okay with "swag." When we sell it right, it really is just about asking the right questions, listening and coming back with a creative solution to our client's problems. It has never really just been about the product, regardless of what you call it.

So let’s all stop taking ourselves so seriously, and “Swag Up!”