Merch kit with branded shirt, branded bottle, branded sunglasses

What Are the Differences Between Merch vs. Swag?

Is it time to put “Swag” to bed?

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. 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.

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