Alternative gifting ideas to replace cheap conference swag


This year saw the return of in-person events and conferences. However, the old, pre-pandemic marketing strategy of giving away as much cheap conference swag as possible is over. Companies around the world are adopting more eco-conscious branded merch and tradeshow strategies.

In this article, we’ll discuss why cheap conference swag isn’t a modern or sustainable marketing strategy and share alternative gift-giving ideas with more sustainable giveaways and products.

Why we hate swag

Swag has a negative connotation that many brands are living up to. When we hear the word “swag” or even “sustainable swag,” our minds immediately think of worthless junk that we collect from events and businesses. In our minds, “swag” refers to:

Swag is meant to help you promote your brand, but do you want your brand to be associated with wastefulness? Do you want people to see your logoed stress balls in the garbage bins outside the conference because no one wants them?

The plastic pollution crisis

Plastic waste ends up in waterways and our natural environment, impacting wildlife and our food and water sources. Much of the tradeshow swag we get from events is one-time-use plastic, and they are tossed away, contributing to this growing plastic pollution crisis.

People don’t want cheap plastic swag anymore. Millennials and Gen Z have sustainability top of mind and are less likely to support a company known for giving away useless, wasteful merch.

The modern, more sustainable strategy of giving away higher quality or useful branded merch is the future. As a sustainable custom-branded promotional products company, we’re very excited about this trend.

Pattern plastic toy in the form of red jaws with white teeth and eyes

The sustainable alternative to branded swag

Instead of giving away thousands of cheap swag items, invest your promotional product budget in a more thoughtful and strategic assortment of sustainable products. This might mean changing your distribution strategy, too.

Your budget for promotional products may also be leaner than in past years due to the still-struggling economy. Businesses need to be more thoughtful about their marketing and branded merch spending to ensure they’re sending the right, sustainable messaging while staying on a lean budget. They are focusing their budgets on merch that will last longer than the cheap one-time-use swag we’re so used to receiving.

The future of promotional merch won’t be about getting your logo in front of as many eyes as possible using cheap giveaways. It’ll focus on engaging customers at events, conferences, and trade show booths to qualify and provide quality leads and customers with merch that reflects your values.

Alternatives to cheap conference swag

So, if we’re telling you to stop giving away cheap swag, what do you give away to help build your brand awareness and recognition? Here are our favourite branded gift ideas to replace cheap conference swag:

Create an online pop-up merch store: Instead of forcing your cheap branded merch on your customers and staff, consider opening an online pop-up shop where people can choose the merch they’ll actually use. This is a great way to prevent waste.

If your brand is strong enough, it can also be a great way to earn additional revenue. You could sell your branded merch to customers through your online store.

Focus on multi-use, not single-use, merch: When you invest in merch with a longer usable shelf life, you get a bigger bang for your buck. For example, give away a set of reusable stainless steel or bamboo straws instead of one-time-use plastic straws with your logo. Instead of printing your logo on paper cups for the lunchroom, print your logo on sustainably sourced ceramic, stainless steel, or glass drinkware.

Donate to charities: Instead of giving away physical swag items, consider donating to a meaningful cause in their name. You can ask your guests or staff to choose from a list of your brand’s favourite charities and make a monthly or one-time donation. This is perhaps one of the most eco-friendly ways to avoid tradeshow merch waste while supporting an organization doing good work in your community.

Upcycle old merch: We can only imagine how much “old” branded merch gets thrown out every year due to them no longer being needed. This may include old tradeshow banners, apparel, or accessories like bags. You can work with a company like Fairware to turn these outdated items into new, useful branded merch through upcycling. You can turn an old tradeshow banner from 2 years ago into dozens of bags or shirts. It’s an excellent and eco-conscious way to get new life out of end-of-life canvas, vinyl, or fabric-based merch.

Support sustainable merch companies: If you choose to have physical branded merch for your next tradeshow, choose from a company with sustainable products. Do your research to ensure the company’s values align, and that they are, in fact, sustainably operated.

A company like Fairware knows the best sustainable and eco-friendly merch brands that will best impact your merch marketing or tradeshow strategy. With hundreds of options and even creative upcycling ideas, you can find the perfect, sustainable merch that aligns with your company’s eco-conscious values.

Tell us about your brand, your values, and how you intend to use your merch, and our team can help you find the perfect match in a sustainably created promotional product from an eco-conscious company.