Is the Trade Show Giveaway Dead?

Keychains. Pens. Sunglasses. Mugs. Lanyards. T-shirts. Stress balls. Portable chargers. If you’ve ever attended a trade show, chances are you were given one (or all) of these branded items. Promotional merchandise has long been used to create brand recognition and help you remember a company after you return home from the show. While it’s true that most of us love a freebie, has a pen ever led to a meaningful partnership? Can a stress ball be the difference between a potential deal and a closed deal? It seems that these promotional items (sometimes called swag) are becoming less common, which made us wonder:

Is the trade show giveaway dead?

In a word, no. Here’s why.


Simply buying branded items in bulk and handing them out to the masses is a thing of the past. A promotional item should be a personalized item that resonates with your audience. Think about who your customer and prospects are; what’s important to them? Consider your persona in a more holistic way and it will lead you to a giveaway or promotional item that creates a touch point that builds on your brand’s equity.


When considering a thoughtful, on-brand giveaway for your next trade show, it’s important to also consider your desired outcome. Are you hoping to generate meaningful leads? Do you want free advertising during the show? Or, do you want to generate contacts? Thinking about the outcome is a great way to think about a special giveaway that will feel personal and in line with your brand message.


Personalization can also come to life by thinking about your industry. For example, we have a client in the HVAC industry who created an engagement around temperature that had prospects lining up to reveal a message and win a variety of prizes like a television. Another client uses personalized pens to sign contracts with new partners and gives them the pen as a memento.


A giveaway item should be considered an investment. A thoughtful, memorable experience can lead to a meaningful relationship and the value could mean millions of dollars down the road. All the more reason to think of an item that won’t simply be tossed in the trash or added to a drawer of pens or a cabinet full of mugs.

So, the trade show giveaway is most definitely not dead. It’s very much alive in companies who understand the value of a meaningful, and potentially memorable, interaction with prospects on the show floor.


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