A Guest Blog of Sorts… “Four-Letter Words” From Kyle Richardson at Promo Marketing

In light of all the activity surrounding President Obama’s Executive Order last week, I thought this was a very well written and to-the-point. I hope you enjoy this important read and thanks to Kyle and the folks at Promo Marketing for allowing me to reprint it.

Promotional Marketing’s Four-Letter Word

November 18, 2011 By Kyle Richardson

We have a problem. The promotional products industry has been haunted by it for years, and it’s only getting worse. It’s an image issue, one that marketers and branders have been unable to shake because it’s become inextricably attached to a demeaning epithet. And that phrase has become synonymous with our industry, for the worse. It’s our four-letter word.


I couldn’t tell you when that word came to gain its current meaning, but it was well before my entrance into the industry. Working in a newsroom in the early 2000s, I first heard it referencing the giveaways you’d receive at press junkets. Everyone was happy to get those freebees (what writer doesn’t want a new pen?), but “swag” still had a derisive connotation. The word is practically sneering. It diminished what otherwise would have been enjoyed.

What brings this to mind is, of course, last week’s executive order requiring federal agencies to cut promotional products spending by 20 percent. Although the actual statement issued by the White House never mentions it, nearly every headline included, if not focused on, “swag.” It didn’t matter that the executive order required spending be cut in four other areas, or that those other areas were listed before promotional items. Look the news up on Google, and you’ll find headline after headline about Obama killing swag.

Why? Because “swag” is a bad word. Swag means cheap, disposable, excessive and unnecessary. To the public, swag means junk. It tells the reader that the government is cutting spending on junk, and the reader likes to hear that. The story would have had a different spin if it said “educational materials” instead…

It all betrays a gross misunderstanding of what the promotional marketing industry is, and that misunderstanding is pervasive. Many people think promotional products equals free, and free equals valueless. That’s why I think this is an image issue. Audiences focus too much on the physical stuff, which is free, and not on why they are receiving it, which is where the value is found.

Fortunately, one thing this industry knows is getting a message out. From PPAI sending a petition to the president to suppliers and distributors speaking to the press, there’s a push back against this misrepresentation. Will it result in Obama reversing his executive order? No. But if it puts a human, American face on the industry, and teaches what promotional products can actually do, then hopefully some benefit can be had. At the very least, maybe we can get people to stop using that bad word.

To read the entire article:  http://bit.ly/uGZiFX

Excerpt reprinted with permission from the North American Publishing Company (NAPCO) | All Rights Reserved Copyright ©2011

2 responses to “A Guest Blog of Sorts… “Four-Letter Words” From Kyle Richardson at Promo Marketing

  1. Although I agree there are a lot of bad words out there that attempt to describe what we do, I think swag is actually a good one. It simply means free stuff. Unless their last name is Karsashian or Disney, most of our buyers intend to give the product away for free. So i think it applies well. I believe for the younger folks out there, swag is cool, chic and desired. All good things!

    I agree with the fact that we constantly have to fight and stand up for the value of what we do. When I hear trinket or chotchky I kinda have to fight off an urge to punch something, but it’s funny because when I hear Swag, I feel relieved.

    It’s funny that we agree on the overall subject but one little word can be perceived so differently. Different strokes for different folks, I guess!!

    Thanks for the article!

  2. Pingback: PK #2 – SWAG: What’s in a Name? - PromoKitchen :: PromoKitchen

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