XE Files: Swag Science

September 25, 2018

Let’s be honest — we all love swag. Swag is a great plus-up to whatever activation you’re organizing and it’s a sure crowd-pleaser. However, swag should not be an afterthought; it should be part of the overall strategy to attract participants to your activation, enhance their engagement and strengthen their brand recognition. Swag is also a great way for people to become walking billboards of your brand, and attract more people to your activation.

Here at Fast Horse, we have a few pointers we share with clients when strategizing swag.

The Fast Horse Swag Rules
  1. Merch should remind you why you went to an event. It should be used to continue the conversation and engagement with your audience long after the event has ended.
  2. Merch should be created in concert with all event elements, telling the story between experience, social and messaging.
  3. Swag should never be a “thank you” gift, otherwise it can feel like you’re bribing attendees when your brand experience should stand on its own.
  4. If swag is an afterthought, don’t do it. It can cheapen or devalue your brand if it’s not thoughtful.
  5. Your logo doesn’t need to be as prominent as you think. Prioritize quality and desirability of product over brand placement to make the biggest impact.

When brainstorming the type of swag you’ll want to have at your event, you need to consider the purpose of the activation, the audience and the logistics. Here are two of the most common types.


People love free stuff. And, giving away free items will certainly help attract more participants to your activation. Producing enough swag for most of your participants might prove a bit pricey, but if your swag is cool enough that people will actually use it, or better yet, post about it on social media, then it’s worth the investment.

You can even use your takeaway as a method to increase the time spent and engagement at your event. The more customizable your giveaway is, the better the experience people will take with them. For example, at our recent Oui by Yoplait activation at Create and Cultivate Chicago, we knew attendees expected a super cool and unique giveaway so we produced branded silk scarves, bracelets, and market bags. Plus, we designed a DIY craft station where participants could weave their own macramé potholders using a recyclable Oui pot. What better reminder that Oui is a great yogurt than to have a cute branded jar hanging in your kitchen?

Another example of a good giveaway our gardening stations at the Grow Bold events for Blue Cross Blue Shield. We taught recipes and gardening tips and people got plants to take home.


Think about how popular photo booths are. People love taking a snap or boomerang wearing some fun props, which they can then share on their social media. A digital takeaway is a great option because not only can you get more bang for your buck (it’s cheaper to contract one photobooth that can be used multiple times than to produce individual swag for participants), but it’s also intuitive and easier for participants to share on social media, guaranteeing that your activation will get more impressions.

We employed this strategy with our Blasted Shreds activation at VidCon 2018, setting up a Blast Booth where people would get blasted in the face with a gust of wind and pieces of Shreds, while capturing the fun content as a boomerang or giphy.

Takeaways are a phenomenal additional that can plus-up your overall experience. Just make sure you put good thought behind it.