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July 24, 2017
Trade Show Swag: Love it or Leave it.
Stephanie Cox
Stephanie Cox

Every year, thousands of professionals in the food and beverage industry attend the IFT Food Expo to learn about the latest research, insights and innovations in food science. This year’s show in Las Vegas was no exception, with 1,200 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees from around the globe showcasing and sampling state-of-the-art products, services and solutions for the industry.

Not only did the groundbreaking ideas and inventions catch my eye at IFT 2017, but as a PR professional, something particularly stood out to me: The swag.

Trade show swag is a hot commodity.

Whether you’re a food ingredients professional or a building products manufacturer, promotional giveaways – or as I like to call them “swag” – are a major part of every trade show. Why? Distributing branded giveaways is one of the most effective methods of driving traffic to your booth and sending visitors away with something to remember you. In fact, studies have found that promotional products are one of the most high-impact, cost-effective forms of advertising media around.

While I still have swag from conferences I attended years ago, much of it has ended up in the trash. So, what is it about those few items that remain on my desk? If you’re looking to increase brand exposure and stand apart from the competition, you need swag that’s creative, useful, relevant and eye-catching.

Creative swag has staying power.

Any company can slap their logo on a pen and call it a day. Rather than settling on a branded pen or stress ball, why not put that money towards a more unique and memorable experience for your attendees with a better swag item? Creative items with staying power will maximize a company’s impact at any trade show or event. For example, CBD’s client, Firestone Building Products, conducted a contest in which attendees could enter to win a Yeti cooler. They hit on a creative item that is very popular and had a great response.

Useful swag means more for attendees.

Your swag ought to consist of things YOU would actually want to use. If your giveaway is not useful, it won’t make it on the plane. Go for an item that can truly add value to the user. For example, Johns Hopkins University distributed branded meat thermometers at IFT17. Would I buy a meat thermometer for myself? Probably not. Will I use this every time I cook? Definitely.

Relevant swag boosts your brand image.

Not all promotional products are a good fit for your brand. Make sure to select a giveaway that relates to your brand and product. It’s also important to remember your audience! Keep in mind that an item that is perfect for a food-related show targeting food science professionals might not be suitable for a contractor attending a builder’s conference. CBD Marketing gave MGP Ingredients the idea to give away a collapsible set of branded measuring cups. Extremely relevant to their brand AND useful. Checks two boxes!

Eye-catching swag draws the crowd.

Some giveaways may not offer the most practical or functional purpose, but they sure can grab attention! If nothing else, an eye-catching item can be a great conversation starter. One IFT17 exhibitor handed out mini portable USB fans for iPhones. I was eager to stop at their booth to try it out for myself.

While promotional products can help increase brand awareness and be a great complement to your overall trade show marketing strategy, it’s important to create a win-win trade show strategy for both sales and marketing. Read our tips on “Win-Win Strategies for Trade Show Lead Generation.”

What has been the best and worst swag item you’ve taken home from an event? We want to hear from you! Share with us by tagging us on Facebook ( or Twitter (@CBDMarketing).