What Is Schwag?
The term schwag refers to all manner of logoed stuff given away by companies to get people to remember them, feel good about them, have their phone number and website at hand and generally make them think about them before any of their competitors. And studies show.... it works!! (see why buy schwag)
The original spelling is "swag" (for Stuff We All Get). A little web research has revealed that there is definitely a widespread use of the term, but no real consensus on the "correct" spelling. One site explained "schwag is what the coolest of the cool people say" and another site indicated it's "called schwag if the item is particularly good." (Hence – we say Schwag)
Other names for Schwag: tchotchkes, knickknacks, gack, promotional products
The History of Schwag:
from Wired Magazine January 2001
Great Moments in Schwag History
1880s William Wrigley Jr. hands out gum to promote his Wrigley's Scouring Soap. The public responds: Screw the soap; just give us the gum.
1889 Ohio newspaperman Jasper Meek figures out how to use his printing presses to stamp words onto burlap. He puts local store names on bookbags; merchants buy them to give away. America's first schwag bag is born.
1890s Henry Beach, Meek's journalistic rival, decides to get even. He uses his printing presses to stamp letters on strips of wood, creating the first great piece of schwag: the imprinted flyswatter handle.
1933 Convicted felon Charles Ward becomes president of the failing promo product company, Brown & Bigelow. He hires hundreds of ex-cons, vowing to rehabilitate them. He also hires the nation's best pin-up artists to draw alluring women on company calendars. B & B's calendars make their way into 50 million homes.
1951 John Baumgarth creates a calendar featuring a nudie photo of a young and unknown Marilyn Monroe, with the words Your Advertisement Here underneath. It becomes one of the most sought-after pieces of schwag ever.
1959 Police search the purse of woman killed in Flushing, New York, and find a pen with a company name on it. The schwag leads them to the suspect: a drug company employee, who confesses. He took the woman to a bar before killing her, and gave a pen to the bartender, too.
1966 Specialty advertising businesses show their patriotic spirit by donating 15,000 plastic pocket calendars to US troops fighting the war in Vietnam.
1977 Apple Computer gives out T-shirts; they become instant collector's items.
Early 1980s Michael Dell floods America with free mousepads.
1990 At the second TED conference, Richard Saul Wurman starts the tradition of giving away teddy bears and Wizards.
Late 1990s Yahoo! plasters its name on kazoos, yo-yos, skateboards, and even the Zamboni ice machine used at San Jose Sharks games.
Late 1990s Following Silicon Valley's lead, 80 percent of corporate America has gone casual; demand for corporate-logo polo shirts goes through the roof.
Fall 1998 German film company Agfa requires Comdex attendees to wear cardboard boxes as hats to qualify for prizes. No one protests.
Early 1999 Guerrilla ad man Michael Dweck designs a silicone breast implant paperweight as schwag for Maxim magazine. It never gets used.
Fall 1999 Yo-yos are no longer enough: Volkswagen Beetles are given away at Comdex.
July 2000 Several units of the Tom Seaver commemorative bobble-head doll, given out at a Mets game to honor the legendary pitcher, find their way onto eBay; The New York Times cites this as evidence that "an on-line market can turn a freebie into a commodity."
There are those who believe the world was always full of schwag. In medieval times, armor makers gave out free, name-engraved wooden pegs so customers could hang up their goods.