Updated September 2023
One of the most frequently asked questions we get from our customers is: What’s the best trade show swag?
To help our customers make smart purchasing decisions, we like to look at both qualitative and quantitative research. Data and customer feedback helps us identify our most popular and effective promotional products. In addition we use statistics from organizations like the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) to learn which categories of promotional products are purchased most frequently. Annual reports like ASI’s Global Ad Impressions Study let us know which promotional products generate the most impressions, are kept the longest by consumers, and provide the best value.
Still, we wanted deeper insight into which promotional items are the most sought-after at trade shows, conferences, and business events. In other words, we wanted to know what types of promotional products business professionals will go out of their way to obtain. So, we scoured the Internet – delving deep into forums like Reddit and Quora and social media networks like Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook – to find the best swag ever – according to real conferences-goers and trade show attendees.
Useful Promotional Items for Trade Shows
We weren’t surprised by the results. While a number of people favored unusual and unique swag, such as sand globes, kaleidoscope glasses, branded Legos, and plush toys, the majority proclaim to prefer practical and useful promotional items such as:
- apparel and accessories (t-shirts, polo shirts, hoodies, jackets, baseball caps, socks, umbrellas & bags);
- office supplies (sticky notes, notebooks, mini whiteboards, & high-quality pens);
- personal care products (lip balm, hand sanitizer, manicure sets, & mints);
- USB flash drives (with large storage capacity);
- Webcam privacy covers & screen cleaning kits;
- drinkware (good quality water bottles & insulated tumblers);
- power banks, wall adapters, & portable phone chargers;
- wireless noise cancelling headphones & wireless Bluetooth speakers.
One person stated that: “Toys, posters, calendars are fun on the day, but just sit in the cupboard afterwards.” Others said they looked forward to receiving essential office supplies like notepads, sticky notes, clips, and pens from their trips to trade show and convention booths. Many TikTok users favor conference swag that makes business traveling easier, such as compact travel power strips and luggage drink holders.
Also frequently mentioned: swag bags full of a variety of branded promotional products including candy and snacks. Additional useful promotional items mentioned in social media conversations about favorite swag include blankets, beach towels, yoga mats, multi-tools, lighted tool pens, flashlight keychains, bottle openers, golf balls, reusable straws, utensil sets, drink coasters, cutting boards, luggage labels, chip clips, insulated shopping bags, and wireless phone charger stands.
This overall emphasis on functionality, utility, and quality meshes with what we already knew about promotional products from other sources: in general, the most highly regarded swag is useful, attractive, and constructed from high-quality materials. Most people prefer swag that will make their lives better – or at least, a bit easier. In fact, many people regarded useful swag that “met the moment” as their favorite including:
- hand sanitizer sent to virtual conference attendees at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when it was an especially in-demand product;
- flip flops handed out at a large convention center (which were especially appreciated by attendees wearing heeled dress shoes);
- flannel-lined mittens given away at a November convention in Ottawa, Canada.
Best Swag Items for Conferences & Trade Shows
Some businesspeople favored promotional products manufactured by high-end brands such as Moleskine, Patagonia, North Face, Levi’s, Lululemon, Columbia Sportswear, Yeti, Stanley, and CamelBak. While co-branding certainly seems to help leave a lasting impression on trade show and event attendees, it isn’t always necessary. Far more people seemed to remember the name of the company who gifted them a product, rather than the product’s manufacturer. One Reddit user wrote that: “Someone from Sony gave me a Playstation-branded hand sanitizing spray at E3 this year. I felt so cool having something as unique as a Playstation hand sanitizer. I showed it off to everybody.”
Promotional products that supported a company’s brand image were often noted (e.g. fishing lures given away by an outdoor apparel brand). Logos and designs that paid homage to an industry, profession, or subculture were also appreciated. A few notable examples we found:
- The stereotype that librarians love cats is so prevalent it even shows up on their conference swag! In 2020, a librarian shared a photo on Facebook of a much-appreciated cat-themed tote bag that book vendor Baker and Taylor sent to her after she attended a virtual conference.
- Useful promotional items with a quirky twist are highly coveted at science conventions! On Twitter, several scientists wrote about some of the best company swag they’d ever received: a mouse brain shaped keychain from the Allen Institute for Brain Science booth at a neuroscience conference.
still one of my favorite things from SfN pic.twitter.com/KxL2WO9hHg
— Ubadah Sabbagh (@neubadah) July 15, 2019
When it comes to the best trade show giveaways, quality should not be ignored: several business professionals told stories about companies who gave away cheap flash drives without adequate storage space and USB car chargers that broke right away. Getting your customers and potential customers excited by the prospect of a branded gift – only to have it disappoint them later – is something that should be avoided at all costs.
From examining promotional product sales data to pouring through conversations on social media sites, our research has made one thing clear: utility and quality are without a doubt the top two attributes of the best swag items for trade shows, conferences, conventions, and events.
For some timeless trade show swag ideas, check out our article on Essential Trade Show Swag! Additional giveaway ideas can be found here: 36 Trade Show Promotional Items to Help your Booth Stand Out. For assistance with selecting the best swag items for your next promotion, contact us or fill out the form below.