Marketing

Best and Worst Conference Swag

When I was a kid, I loved birthday parties with goodie bags (still do). While other kids scoped out the cake, you could catch me sneaking by the goodie bag table to peek inside. Even now as a Mom I’m still the first to find out what my kids got in their goodie bags (and take my cut of the goods, of course). There’s a definite hierarchy for goodie bags. The top tier includes good candy, stickers, Chinese finger traps, and popper toys. Goodie bag chaotic evil would be things like non-functional slinkies and yo-yos whose string breaks first try.

Conference swag is the adult goodie bag and today we’re going to list some of the best and worst conference swag. Sure, the main purpose of a conference is not the goodies – it’s the content but, everyone loves a few surprises. You’ve gone, you’ve learned, you’ve conquered so why not enjoy some free swag to remember it all?

Event swag can make an impression. As a brand, swag is a great way to advertise your company. Every time an attendee reaches for a pen with your logo, it’s an opportunity to think of your brand. But whether the impression left is positive or negative can sometimes depend on the swag itself.

Best Conference Swag

Phone chargers. Our phones are our lifeline, especially during a conference. From adding in new contacts and sending emails to staying on top of the agenda and posting on social media, conferences can be a big drain on our battery. Phone chargers make for great swag, giving us a much-needed battery boost in a time of need.

Unique snacks. I am an expert at snacks (if you know me, you know me as the Chief of Snacks). Long days and busy schedules mean delicious snacks are always welcome event swag to keep the hangry at bay. I always wish I brought more snacks when I’m at a conference. Cookies, chips, popcorn, local treats and even candy can be just the pick-me-up conference attendees need to make it through the day.

Pens. This may seem like a simple, old school one – and it is. But it’s also useful (and cheap to produce!) With conference attendees jotting down notes, it’s likely your pen will get a lot of use. If you’re a pen snob like me, a good pen with a smooth write will become a prized possession. It may become their new go-to pen and give you more brand exposure.

Hand sanitizer. Since 2020, hand sanitizer has become a hot commodity. Unlike some of the junk on the “worst” list, I’ve never thrown away hand sanitizer. I’ll think of your company fondly while I disinfect after the day’s handshakes. Bonus points if your hand sanitizer smells good!

Breath mints. A lot of conversation and close talking (or even being subjected to your own breath behind a mask) mean breath mints are evergreen event swag.

Worst Conference Swag

Keychains. How many keychains does one person need? It’s unlikely attendees will want to display your company’s logo on their keys. I haven’t added a new keychain to mine in years. Avoid feeding the landfill and skip the keychains.

Phone cases. Most people don’t need another phone case. Plus, with so many attractive, inexpensive phone cases on the market, why would attendees switch out the one they bought and paid for with one bearing your company’s logo?

USB Flash Drives. This swag is more of a drag. Flash drives are a thing of the past and I’m not sad to see them go. The freebies of conferences past were cheap, low storage and easily broken.

Hats. Along the same line as phone cases, attendees don’t want to wear a cap emblazoned with a company’s logo when they have caps they like at home.


I hope you found this list helpful if you’re planning on ordering branded swag for your next conference or event. Here’s my key takeaway: The best conference swag is useful and makes sense. For instance, if the conference takes place by the beach in Florida, a beach tote or a towel are appropriate swag that will come in handy. If it’s spring, an umbrella can help circumvent unpredictable weather.

What are some of the best and worst swag items you’ve seen?

Conference Swag Bingo

Leave a comment