person tying ribbon on purple gift box

Regarding Gifts: What is the Best Swag?

It is close to Christmas, so it is a fitting time to reflect on presents: To prepare my move from the US to Switzerland I came across some advertising gifts / swag I have collected over the years. Good ideas in this area are difficult to come up with, because companies should not give away things that feel cheap, yet at the same time most employees like myself cannot accept expensive gifts in order to make sure they remain independent (and even to stop serious crimes like bribery and kickbacks in their tracks). Hands down the best advertisement gift I have seen was when someone grabbed a box of cold water bottles, put their company sticker on it and handed them out on a hot day. There have been similar attempts, e.g., umbrellas during rain, but they are more difficult to pull off and never reach the cost effectiveness of cold water on a sunny day.

Drink-related items also work regarding cups and coasters. I have seen that one can get logos printed onto smart mugs (Ember in this case), but again: I would have to decline one of those, since it is too expensive. However, something like this could be a great idea as a company-internal gift for a promotion or a job well done. The great thing about this is that if the person actually uses it, the person will appreciate it every single day. For instance, StackOverflow sometimes gives away a Brumate mug as depicted below. An insulated mug like this (there are similar products from Yeti and other brands) is cheap enough to be below most thresholds yet good enough that it can be a daily mug both to keep coffee or tea warm as well as cans (both big and small) cool. It can also be paired with a few cans of specialty beer and a virtual get-together without exceeding the typical threshold.

The probably coolest gift in this context I have ever received, though it wasn’t an advertisement gift per se, but a t-shirt from my great colleague Quanfu Fan with an adversarial pattern that would render me invisible to person detectors as depicted below. The person in normal clothing is perfectly detected, even though he is occluded / cut off, whereas we are not detected as persons. Not many people can claim that they have a t-shirt that renders them invisible and that had a paper written about it. Thank you again, Quanfu.

Finally, here is an assortment of items. The ruler by Nvidia with electronic circuitry was another great idea: Everybody has a ruler somewhere and by making one that stands out they have a good chance of placing an item in your office that will stay with you comparably long-term thus reminding you of the company for an extended period of time. These ones were handed out at MIT after a guest lecture by an Nvidia employee. [In a similar fashion, I have seen multiple times that Googlers brought Google socks to events which were in high demand.] Another favorite of mine are the floppy disk coasters Microsoft handed out at conferences to promote Text World which was just a cool and fitting idea, esp. since they remind me of IBM’s TextWorld Commonsense as well. They come in multiple colors and are another item that lends itself to long-term usage. The last item I want to mention are Intel Neural Compute sticks. They handed these out when they came out to get them into the hand of researchers, which is obviously an appealing thing to try for techies, but the disclaimer above applies – most employees in most scenarios will have to seek approval before accepting one which is a hassle that should be carefully considered beforehand. Imho, regarding advertising gifts great ideas beat monetary value.

So which of these have passed the test of me personally using them? The ruler and the coaster. With that, let me get back to my tea (in my Kintsugi cup).

One more thing: While I don’t want to toot our own horn, I like the gift-shop-inspired way the MIT-IBM lab presents its swag. In addition, we also pre-pack gift bags before events to efficiently hand out larger amounts.

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