The Evolution of Swag: Promotional Products Over the Years

March 26, 2019

For companies looking to make a connection with the outside world, promotional products are key. Whether you hand out t-shirts with your company name or a stack of logoed pens sits on a convention table encouraging engagement, promotional products—and swag—are often the first point of contact for companies. Promotional products spark interest and excitement.

Promotional products have even snuck their way into popular culture. In an episode from the television show “The Office,” Michael Scott is at an event and holds up a foam finger and numerous bags. He shouts, “Swag! Stuff we all get!

Of course, after digging a little deeper, the term “swag” has been around much longer than Michael Scott. According to Merriam-Webster, there is 17th-century evidence of the word referring to goods that were acquired by less-than-lawful means (swag was often synonymous with “loot”). Luckily, in more modern times, promotional products and event “swag” has evolved to be freely given and happily received.

One of the first known promotional products in the United States were commemorative buttons for the election of George Washington in 1789. As marketing became more and more sophisticated over the following decades, people started to use calendars, aprons, buggy whips and even hats for horses as promotional products.

Today, the promotional products industry totals more than $23 billion in sales each year. They make a lasting, and positive, impact. For example, 82% of individuals who received a promotional product had a more favorable impression of the brand and 83% were more likely to do business with the brand. The top three reasons someone will keep a promotional product is because it is fun, functional or trendy.

The Promotional Products Association (PPAI) started in 1903 and launched its first tradeshow convention in 1914 with 32 exhibitors. Now, the PPAI Expo® covers nearly a million square feet and showcases tens of thousands of promotional products!

Swag comes in all shapes and sizes. From highly technical outerwear to beanies and towels, there is something for everyone.