'Swag Bags' for the Rest of Us

By Rachelle Douillard-Proulx
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 26, 2007; 10:59 AM

Most people who follow celebrity awards shows on TV have probably heard about the tradition of loading attendees down with fancy goodies.

Celebrity "swag bags," as they're called, are stuffed with free items from various companies that want some "free" advertising or the opportunity to test the response to new products.

Though the 2007 Washington Auto Show -- held Jan. 24-28 at the Washington Convention Center -- is not an awards show, there is swag to be collected there as well. The bags don't boast the same high-priced items typically found in the arms of red-carpet-walking movie stars, but this year's show still has a few good finds for those who know where to look.

Most companies stock their booths with slickly produced pamphlets and brochures. At the Autotrader.com booth, however, visitors could walk away with flash drive bracelets. The bracelets, containing 128MB of memory, are functional and easy to wear around a wrist or attach to a keychain.

Autotrader.com chose this particular item as a giveaway based on the current popularity of external storage devices, according to Autotrader.com spokesperson LaVonne Owen, who says the company tracks trends in promotional items in order to associate its giveaways with whatever is "hot in the market."

They seemed to work on some visitors. "The flash drive is definitely the coolest giveaway here this year," said Emily Fitzgerald of Alexandria, Va., who says she and her father Skip have attended at least eight consecutive Washington shows. Exhibitors "seem to step it up every year," said Fitzgerald.

Other companies' giveaways included Scion's sleek silver key chains and the American Automobile Association's water bottles -- which came with insurance information inside. The pamphlet included a business card for AAA¿s Mid-Atlantic Insurance Agency, along with information on insurance plans.

Pin collectors might enjoy Hyundai's booth, which featured a basket of small pins with "Hyundai: Helping Kids Win Against Cancer" etched on them. (In 2005, the Hyundai Dealers Association and Hyundai Motor America established an effort to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer research.)

Some manufacturers, meanwhile, chose to try to stand out by making their paper giveaways memorable. MINI was one example: Instead of the common 8 ½ by 11-inch brochure, it mimicked its diminutive autos with a small 3 by 3-inch information packet.

Others offered something for free -- but not the sort of thing that fits in a pocket. "Camp Jeep" offered show visitors the chance to ride in a new Jeep model on an off-road course that tests vehicle response to ground clearance, maneuverability, water fording and traction.

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