Think about the last trade show you attended, and how much money went into all of the swag made available to attendees. Now think about what small percent of that swag was actually interesting, truly breakthrough, or desireable. Probably a low percentage.

Trade show giveaways are often overlooked as a significant opportunity to drive buzz and pass-along word-of-mouth marketing value starting with those primary show attendees. If you want pass-along value and buzz, pens and notepads probably aren’t going to cut it. You need something that people covet.

This week, I heard Julian Aldridge from Ammo Marketing call these breakthrough swag pieces “pilferables.” It’s a great, visual name that describes well what good swag does. It’s not just a piece of plastic with your brand name or logo on it. It’s something that your audience wants, needs, covets.

Creating pilferable swag isn’t always cheap, but the impact of good pilferables can be considerable. Consider Julian’s example from a campaign his firm created for Miller High Life. For this campaign, up-and-coming rock bands were the target, as they were the influencers who woudl impact their broader target audiences (other bands, and especially the audiences at the band’s shows).

What Julian did was plant Miller High Life keychains and well-designed t-shirts in the dressing rooms and back rooms of the clubs that their target bands were playing in. They didn’t promote this, they didn’t ask the band to take anything. But everything disappeared.

Then t-shirts started appearing on stage at future shows, and the bands started handing out key chains with the High Life brand to their friends.

Whether at a trade show or in broader marketing strategy, swag has a purpose. It typically serves as a reminder to your primary audience, or a tool to encourage referrals and pass-along marketing.

Don’t pass out swag. Enable pilferables with a purpose.