Cool Swag For Your Brand’s Fans

Hip Hops Card Deck - Copy
Are you thinking about launching a giveaway contest on Facebook or planning on distributing branded key chains or other swag at the local music festival? Is your online store missing a unique branded item that will instantly transform your brand’s loyal fans into walking billboards? Congratulations! You’ve obviously done your marketing homework. Promotional merchandise featuring your branded logo is a cost-effective way to create an army of enthusiastic brand ambassadors who will place your brand high on the radar in public settings, private homes, and workplaces.

First of all, it is essential to point out that there is good swag and bad swag. Good swag is attractive, creative, and innovative. It isn’t shabby or poorly constructed, therefore, it sticks around for a long, long, time. Customers are proud to wear or use quality branded swag because it creates a positive impression of the brand and the people who love it.

On the other hand, bad swag can damage branding efforts. When the initial excitement of scoring a freebie wears off, its recipient wonders if the brand, much like its swag, is just a momentary, short-lived pleasure to be used once and quickly forgotten.

Can Hip Hype Sell Hops?

While I was researching branded merchandise offerings for this column, I got to sample some interesting promotional items that stood out from key chains, bottle openers, and other typical promotional items. One of those items is the Hip Hops collectible beer card game. Francis Madeira, the founder and CEO of Hip Hops, created Hip Hops after noticing a lack of fun, attractive, and accessible collectibles for beer lovers yearning to learn about interesting beer brands.

The backers of Hip Hop’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign voted for the brands that are featured in the first deck of playing cards. Madeira is currently asking Hips Hops purchasers to nominate beer brands for inclusion in future card decks. They can email their nominations or draw their favorite beer on one of the two blank beer cards included in the deck and share it on social media by tweeting it via this hash tag: #hiphops. Every nominated brewery is then offered their own card in the game.

Francis noted that craft breweries are typically nominated over commercial breweries at a rate of more than 40 to 1. A growing trend on social media is for Hip Hops card collectors to feature photographs of a beer with its matching Hip Hops game card.

Currently, many featured breweries stock the game in their taprooms or share it over social media. Promotional participation, a fee, or card pack purchases are not required for inclusion. Interested brewers can submit artwork at

Madeira also offers the option of creating expansion packs featuring a brewery’s entire product line.

Here’s my take on this cool swag: Go for it! What brewery can’t use free worldwide exposure?

Marketing Ideas:

Featured breweries can gain extra marketing mileage by purchasing the cards and placing stickers with their logos on each deck before distributing them at promotional events.

Here’s another idea! As a special promotional offer, a custom expansion pack can be bundled with selections from a brewery’s branded merchandise and promoted as a free gift with purchase.

Growler Power

According to Amanda Davis, marketing manager at Picnic Time, craft beer giveaways must be created with great care.

“If someone is promoting their craft beer, anything given away will be associated with them, their beer, and their brand. Products must be high quality, have a “cool factor” and be imminently useable. Without those factors, products are cheap or irrelevant and will be thrown away instantly.”

Picnic Time sells a growler tote that is a great example of a quality giveaway that will be used again and again, often in public. The lightweight tote and 64-oz. glass beer growler can be used as an enticing raffle contest prize or as an award to winners of beer story or beer trivia contests

Swiggies Swag

A craft beverage giveaway that I call “no-brainer swag” is an attractive drinking vessel with a brand’s logo imprinted on it. You simply can’t go wrong with this type of swag. A good example is Swiggies, a wrist water bottle worn by runners. Its inventor, Julie Austin, reported that Hash House Harriers, a worldwide group of non-competitive running clubs (tag line: a drinking club with a running problem) approached her about creating customized Swiggies for their beer-swigging runners.

In accordance with their request, Austin created custom Swiggies especially for Hash House Harriers. You can learn more about the club and their branded Swiggies bottles on this Swiggies’ websitepage:

Austin also sells logo-embossed Swiggies to liquor companies for distribution at events like Mardi Gras, Burning Man, pub crawls, and beer festivals.

Austin sent me a Swiggies review sample that was secure and comfortable to wear. While its small size isn’t a good fit for the “hot” running trend that has runners downing a beer at every quarter mile point it is suitable for use at outdoor events or short running sessions.

Because Swiggies bottles are routinely used to carry water, craft spirits and beer producers enjoy plenty of long-term mileage from their Swiggies investment when the bottles are used long after a concert, music festival, or outdoor fair is over.

Sticking Around in Public

During these high-tech times, stickers are often left out of the marketing mix because they’ve been around forever and are low-tech. Because there are no click-through rates or a foolproof way to determine ROI on sticker giveaways, many craft beverage companies forget that stickers make it easy for their fans to signal to one another that they identify with and adore their brand.

Jeff Nicholson, the founder of Websticker, a division of Freely Creative, Inc., wrote a book on sticker marketing called Stick This: Using Promotional Stickers to Build Identity, Create Word-Of-Mouth and Grow Sales. Nicholson wrote that the most important thing to know about stickers is this: “There simply is no better marketing than the marketing done by your “fans.” Stickers applied in visible locations are perceived as “literal signs” of support for a business, a person, an idea, or a product.”

Websticker has created stickers for numerous craft breweries and wine and spirits companies. A sample sticker packet of theirs contained quite a few brewery stickers, including a striking sticker for a brewery that I’d written about only a month earlier. I could easily imagine that brewery’s attractive sticker riding high on public “billboards” such as cars, biking helmets, bicycles, or hundreds of other places.

My take on all of this sticky stuff is this: Stickers are fun, inexpensive, and easily distributed. You can slip them into mailings and outgoing orders, hand them out at fairs and other events, and stick them just about anywhere. Giving away stickers or including a handful of stickers in promotional mailings is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to keep a brand’s name in front of brand fans and the people they encounter.

Stickers have come a long way. Most bumper stickers, except for really cheap ones, are made to easily peel off of surfaces without leaving a mess. Just think of the marketing mileage a bumper sticker receives if it is attached to a car on an 800-mile road trip or daily commute throughout a major city—all for the price of a bumper sticker. If your brand’s fans want to give your brand valuable advertising space on the back of their cars—go for it!

A Dearth Of Green

While I was researching the marketplace for craft beverage swag, I had a hard time finding promotional products that were eco-friendly. I believe that as people become more conscious of buying eco-friendly products they will also seek out and especially appreciate swag that is “green.”

More companies should consider placing their logos on swag made of recycled or eco-friendly materials. Doing something positive for the environment, especially if you promote your brand as a community-oriented company, is as good for your brand as it is for the planet.

Giving to Get

Swag is advertising disguised as a gift. Fans appreciate being appreciated. They love to receive cool, free stuff with your logo imprinted on it.
The key point to remember is this—quality is more important than quantity. The best swag is durable, safe, and pleasing to touch, feel, smell, and view.