What Are the Differences Between Merch vs. Swag?

What Are the Differences Between Merch vs. Swag?

Those of us in the promotional products world have heard all the terms before: advertising, offline marketing, promotional marketing, company promo, branded swag, tchotchkes, freebies, and giveaways. And now merch has debuted among our growing list of evolutionary terms. 

While most people would assume these terms have the same basic meanings, we have a different opinion — especially regarding today’s most common promotion terms: merch and swag.

Diving into Merch vs. Swag

Before we get down to the brass tacks of the conflict between merch vs. swag, let’s go through some simple definitions.

What is Swag?


\ ‘swag \ 

(noun) Promotional items given away for free.

Swag is a slang term for many things, but for our purposes, swag is a term used to describe promotional items — typically giveaway items with a short shelf life. You know those branded pens passed out after getting your A/C serviced or the free sunglasses you pick up at a local music festival? Those items are typically thought of as swag. 

What is Merch?


\ ‘mərch \

Short for merchandise. 

(noun) the commodities or goods bought and sold in business 

 (verb)  to promote for or as if for sale

Merch is slang for “merchandise,” and while there are a few different definitions for the word, let’s focus on the verb — “to promote for.” Merch tends to be higher-end products with long periods of usage. These items, like company tumblers or promotional shirts, can still be given away, but top-rated brands have also started selling them to their customer base. 

Are you looking for quality merch that makes the right impression? From branded apparel and custom water bottles to ready-made kits and high-end products, we have everything you need to tell your brand story. Tell us how we can help your next promotional campaign — call us at 800.300.2007. 

The Evolution of Swag into Merch

So why compare merch vs. swag? Or even better yet, why is there a shift in the terminology? We all still love freebies, right? Well, yes and no. It all comes down to the audience. Entrepreneur.com has a fascinating take on this: Millennials don’t want ads. They want stories. This goes for Gen Z too — since they’re the ones taking on marketing coordinator and brand strategist roles. The younger generations want their brands to tell a story, especially if they can play their part on social media. 

Let’s say for example, Carli is out at her local state fair. She is browsing vendor booths covered with all kinds of interesting products, from fresh-cut flowers to kettle corn. There is a vendor there promoting dance lessons. This vendor is there talking with potential customers while giving away free, branded tote bags. 

Carli picks a tote bag and wanders to the next booth, a local vendor selling not only ethically-sourced honey but also eco-friendly t-shirts with a perfectly designed logo. Carli loves the shirt’s design, so she buys it along with some of the honey. 

Carli then arrives home, where she gushes over the local honey company and her new, unique (and sustainable) t-shirt — all the while, the tote is left in her car for future grocery trips. Carli will wear that t-shirt frequently, add pictures of her wearing it to Instagram and even go online to shop their beeswax products.

This highlights the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the branded tote. It will still have a practical use, and people will still see it! But that t-shirt carries a story of helping a local business and the benefits of ethical beekeeping. It reinforces moral efforts of sustainability. And it builds a connection between the business and the customer. 

Should We Say Goodbye to Swag?

As telling a brand story becomes more and more important, so does the term merch. Customers, employees and partners want to “buy” into your brand story. They want to be a part of the experience of your products, both free and purchased. But where does that leave swag in all of this?

It’s hard to say for sure what will happen to swag. Many of us still think of promo items as swag — especially as we walk the aisles of our favorite trade shows or visit annual conferences. But we can say for sure that merch is in its hay day and doesn’t seem to be stepping down anytime soon. And that’s a good thing because your brand deserves to be admired, worn, used, and, most of all, remembered. 

Are you ready to move your brand story forward? At Pinnacle Promotions, we know a thing or two about building the brand journey through quality products, perfectly branded and delivered where you need them when you need them. Let us help you find the right products and elevate your merch to the next level.

Posted by Chrissy Petrone, 0 comments

The Rise of the Swag Bag

As an event manager, party planner, or all-around brand genius, we know you have your event planned down to the most obscure points possible. But have you paid as much attention to this year’s swag bag? Sure it’s easy to throw a few pens and a plain journal into a basic  bag and call it a day, but your guests probably won’t bother to read the logo on yet another pen. How do you combat swag bag fatigue?

By learning from your viral predecessors, of course! This year there have been a few swag bags that have gone viral. Let’s look at the top 3 and see what makes so worthy.

1. HBO’s Behind the Candelabra lavishness– The Liberace biopic that HBO aired earlier this year already had a good amount of positive press surrounding it. HBO stepped up their game and took their protagonist’s taste for all things lavish one step further with the swag bags they sent out to the press.  Liberace is quoted as once  saying, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful!”, opulence was a big theme in his life and the film strived to capture that. The same sense of grandness was then applied to the swag bag sent out to the press. It included a bottle of champagne, an iPod, and sparkly jewelry along with a few other items Liberace himself would have been glad to wear. It not only reminded the press to watch and review the film, it provided extra marketing when recipients would write about the swag they had received. While you don’t have to send out bottle of Moët, make sure the promo items you choose serve to enhance your message instead of being a boring side note.

2. VidCon’s Mashup -VidCon is a convention that aims to bring together online video creators. If you’ve ever spent anytime at all on YouTube, you can image what a diverse crowd those video-makers must be. So at first glance, VidCon’s swag bag seems to be a jumble of things that don’t quite tie together: guitar picks, bingo cards and potpourri to name a few. But if you pan back, you’ll see that VidCon strives to include all genres, ages, and skill-level of online video fans. So, naturally, their swag bag would be an extension of that everyone-is-included mashup. If you are hosting or sponsoring an event that’s going to bring in a wide variety of people, choose items that both fit your brand and enhance the event theme. Your recipients will run a gamut of interests, likes, and dislikes, and even a small amount in variety will ensure that everyone goes home with something they enjoy.

3. ComicCon exclusiveness – Sometimes it seems that the brand managers at Comic-Con have a single mantra when it comes to their swag: if you make it exclusive, they will come. The term “swag” stands for “stuff we all get”. Comic-con turns the meaning on its head: not everyone will get it and you may have to pay dearly for it. Most people head to the San Diego Comic-Con fully realizing that they may not make it into the panel event of their choice, and instead choose to wander the convention hall picking up exclusive items you can only get during this time. Knowing that they will have the chance to receive things that other won’t can be a plus in your favor when people are deciding whether or not to attend. Best of all, people love to post to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram about all their exclusive new stuff and that amounts to free marketing and potential new customers for you.

We’ve all been to that one event where we received a swag bag of such amazing and relevant items that it set an impossibly high bar for all other promotional products, but what made it extra special for you? Let us know in the comments and keep those same principles in mind when it’s time for your next event!

Posted by Admin in Marketing Ideas, 0 comments