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The publicity bonanza that is the Oscars swag bag

We got a peek inside the massive Oscar nominee gift bags. (Video: David Jorgenson/The Washington Post)

In Hollywood, the less you want for, the more people want to give you things.

For the past 16 years, Lash Fary, founder of Distinctive Assets marketing agency, has overseen the curation and distribution of the “Everyone Wins Nominee Gift Bag” — note the lack of the word “Oscars” after a 2016 run-in with the academy’s attorneys.

We met with Fary to take a look at this year’s offerings. Each bag is big enough to fit a number of human bodies and heavy enough to risk back injury if you tried to lift it with poor form. The primary bag and its smaller sibling, the overflow gift bag, contain more than 50 items valued at what Fary describes as a “strong six figures.” Asked to clarify, he said that a “strong six figures” means you’re somewhere over the $150,000 mark, while a “weak six figures” would imply a paltry $100,000.

Fary’s business plan is a self-fulfilling publicity prophecy. Brands who crave celebrity endorsement pay his agency a minimum of $4,000 to be included in the bag, which is delivered to every acting and directing nominee the week of the Oscars. Though there is no guarantee that a celebrity would publicly tout any of the gifts he or she has received, the world’s unhealthy fascination with the swag bag ritual leads to widespread media coverage of the bag itself. Almost as soon as one Oscars ceremony ends, Fary begins to curate the next year’s bag, and on and on it goes, forever.

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It’s difficult to behold the collection of gifts without contemplating class war. This year’s offerings include a slate of skin-care, weight-loss and anti-aging products designed to fend off the inevitable progression of human life, as well as something called “Chao Pinhole Gum Rejuvenation.” The bag features fancy chocolates from Chocolatines in flavors unknown to the proletariat such as “Champagne Diamond” and “Ginger Sake Pearl.” We sampled the “Pomegranate Balsamic Ruby” but couldn’t taste the ruby.

This year’s most expensive offering is a $40,000 luxury trip to Tanzania from International Expeditions, though Fary says he probably wouldn’t take the trip himself, as he doesn’t like the hassle of travel.

Some of the bag’s gifts make strange bedfellows. The “D. Thomas Signature DNA Head to Toe” treatment promises in a Distinctive Assets news release to use “the magic and science of laser and light” to “ ‘soft focus’ your skin’s imperfections from head to toe.” Tucked in beside it is the children’s book “Curlee Girlee” by Atara Twersky, with the stated mission of “empowering young girls to love all their unique features.”

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Stranger still is the fact that all nominees receive the same set of gifts, offering the mental image of Christopher Plummer receiving a deluxe set of false eyelashes from Le Céline, or host Jimmy Kimmel, who also gets a bag, enjoying a new can of “Pepperface,” a “stylish pepper spray.”

Will Richard Jenkins enjoy “sexy, youthful, voluminous hair” with the new products from Totalee Hair? Will any of the nominees take advantage of an exclusive offer to sign up for NeverMissed, a new dating app inspired by the romance of missed connections? It’s hard to imagine — yet here we are imagining it, which perhaps is the entire point.

Why give gifts to those who already have it all?

“Their brands are valuable as a commodity,” Fary explains, “and that’s why we’re giving them these products.” The brands that dish out thousands to be part of the swag bag “hope that the stars will love their product,” or that in the case of a spa service or retreat, that the celebrity will “show up and sprinkle stardust on it.”

And what does Fary say to those who may criticize the ritual as a total waste of money?

“I would just tell them to take a marketing class.”