5 Free Swag Items No One Wants

Let’s get one thing out of the way: swag is an awful term.   If the term doesn’t feel you with rage, the plethora of this crap certainly will.  You can call free swag many things; gifts, promotional items, giveaways, freebies, you name it.  You’ll see them at weddings, company christmases, in magazine offers…but no industry dominates the swagalicious handouts like tradeshows.

Whether you’ve been to one trade show or hundreds, nothing is more apparent than your desire for free crap from exhibitors.  Meant to promote and entice attendees to their brand, free swag items continue to increase in supply with a stark drop in demand.  Sure, we all can use a new shirt or pen, but these exhibitors need to take the hint that some free swag may hurt your brand.

We’ve only attended about 2-5 trade shows thus far, and already we have severe promotional item fatigue of certain products. Below is a list of the most commonly collected free swag items that are the worst offenders.

#5–Thumb Drives

Pile of USB Flash Disks

Also called: USB Sticks, Flash Disks, Jump Drive, The New Floppy Disk

Once an absolutely needed piece to any IT tech or Data person’s arsenal, thumb drives now sit in the same drawer as those floppy disks you swear you’ll get to one day.  The only reason you would need a thumb drive these days is to transfer massive files (*ahem* some personal videos *ahem*), but trade show exhibitors still rarely provide anything larger  than 4GB.  Sure, most vendors will load the drives with content, but what we want is a large capacity drive! Anything less than 32GB is inadequate.

Verdict: A dime a dozen on Amazon.

Try Instead: Giving away a USB hub for all those damn things.

#4–Water Bottles

Water Bottle

Including: plastic tumblers, mugs, water bags.

We know what you’re thinking. Whether made of metal or plastic, a REUSABLE bottle mitigates the impact of  non-biodegradable water bottles from ending up in landfills and rivers. What better way to show your potential clients that you care about the planet than to gift them a sturdier non-biodegradable water bottle.  Oh, and not to mention the benefits of drinking water everyday.   

But let’s be honest, at least the disposable packs of water bottles are easily recyclable unlike this stupid swag item. If the disposable kind won’t destroy the planet, these surely will thanks to trade shows!

Verdict: Another dime, another dozen on Amazon.

Try Instead: Beer glasses.  Everyone is planning to build that bar in the basement, eventually!


#3–Power Banks

Portable Power Bank (Recharge Cell Phones)

Perhaps the most useful, yet expensive, freebie on this list.  For vendors willing to dole out the cash for these promos, many will gleefully slap their logo on the cheapest import model.  Unscientifically, we’d guess there’s a 99% failure rate among tradeshow portable charger swag.  The fact they will stop working after two recharges isn’t surprising, but neither is them exploding

Perhaps save us the explosion risks and you’ll save your marketing department from bad PR.

Verdict: Dangerous Free Swag. Don’t. Go. Cheap.

Try Instead: If need be, do any type of Anker-brand product. They’re proven, and warrantied.

Anker PowerCore 10000, One of The Smallest and Lightest 10000mAh External Batteries, Ultra-Compact, High-Speed Charging Technology Power Bank for iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and More


Spawn of the Devil: Selfie-Sticks

A bad habit that simply should not be encouraged. Not only dangerous, but downright illegal (in some areas).

Verdict: Why?

Try Instead: Phone cases, specifically wallet phone cases.


#1–Can Koozies/Cozy

Koozies for Aluminum Cans

You may spell or pronounce it a certain way, but it doesn’t matter. No one wants these. Chances are you might have 100 of these in a shopping bag. And you can’t even recall the last time you even used one.  If you need a koozie, that just means you aren’t drinking fast enough.  Hand gets cold? Set it on a coster.

No free swag is more common and more plentiful than the can koozie.  It’s rumored that there are so many, that if you lined up each one, it would span the Universe twice over.  If you’re handing these out to clients in hopes they will remember you, your clients have already moved onto the next face in the crowd.

So unless your business is seeking to be featured in the National Cooler & Koozie Museum, then it’s best to look elsewhere.

Verdict: Only pennies on the dollar at Amazon.

Try Instead: You shouldn’t do it… but these exists:

Free Swag–The Unhonorable Mentions

  • Pens – Ink sold separately.
  • Canvass bags – Need something to carry the free swag. 
  • Sunglasses – UV protection my a**.
  • Fedora – Trade show marketers are truly a different breed.

Last update on 2024-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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