Thanks to the miracle of “swag bags,” award nominees don’t have to walk away with a tiny gold trophy to feel like a winner. At lavish shows like the Oscars and the Grammys, celebrities clamor for curated gift bags filled with thousands of dollars’ worth of product. Plastic surgery, premium pet food, an Audi for a year, a trip to a remote Swedish island, and charitable giving opportunities are all freebies that have been tossed into award show gift bags at some point. Bags given out to 2022’s Academy Awards nominees contained items worth a total of $137,000 each. (And one bag from last year was valued at over $200,000!)
It’s not just big-name luxury brands that make it into award show bags. There are plenty of products from smaller independent brands, like The Chai Box, a tea company that was featured in the bag given to this year’s Oscar nominees.
“We felt that this was a very unique opportunity to spread the love of chai across such an influential group of Oscar nominees,” says Monica Sunny, founder of The Chai Box.
Ahead, find out how businesses like Monica’s make it into these coveted gift collections—and if getting your product into the hands of Hollywood’s A-listers is worth your time (and marketing budget).
How brands are chosen for celebrity gift bags
The Chai Box's own road to the Oscars began back in November of 2021, when the brand was approached by Distinctive Assets, an LA-based marketing firm that also handled the swag bags at the 2022 Grammys.
Gift bags aren’t meant to be a celeb consolation prize—in fact, they’re assembled entirely independently from the ceremonies themselves. Firms like Distinctive Assets undertake swag bag programs in order to garner attention and press—and the potential elusive celeb-as-influencer endorsement—for their clients. And to do so, they’ve got to assemble a collection of gifts that are really worth talking about.
Lash Fary, founder of Distinctive Assets, says putting the bags together is a “year-round planning process.”
“We seek out fun, fabulous, indulgent, and even functional products and services,” Lash says.
“We aren’t concerned with the price tag. We simply want to compile a gift bag where busy celebrities can find new beauty products, off-the-beaten path trips, and even items to share with their children and pets.”
This year’s Oscar bag, titled “Everyone Wins”, included items such as pre-paid trips, skin care, gourmet food, candles, board games, and a personal coaching session.
Gifts with a philanthropic angle are also big hits. One year, Halo Pets offered recipients a 10,000-meal donation to an animal shelter of their choice. Lash says these gifts were redeemed by Julia Roberts, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and other A-listers.
The Chai Box got on Distinctive Assets’ radar after being selected as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things last year.
Monica’s mission with her company is to educate people about how to make a traditional cup of chai using sustainable ingredients. She saw the Oscar bag as a way to continue that mission: “When we were approached by DA, we felt that this was a very unique opportunity to spread the love of chai across such an influential group of Oscar nominees,” she says.
Monica was given instructions on how much product to include, but the final item selections were up to her. She was also invited to add a hand-written note to each Oscar nominee receiving a bag.
There are two ways to get into these bags—either you’re approached, as Monica was, or you make a pitch to the firm that creates the bag. Distinctive Assets creates one of the most buzzed about bags, but with some research you may be able to find more local or niche gifts that make sense for your products. The GLAAD Media Awards, which honor members of the LGBTQ+ community, for example, creates its own gift bags.
When reaching out, you should prepare a pitch and samples. You’ll need to make the case for why what you’re selling is unique and desirable, and you’ll also have to be willing to pay for the exposure.
The price tag and the payoff
While the bags are a free gift for the celebs who get them, there often are costs associated with participating in swag bags.
While Monica did not pay a fee, Lash says fees to participate in the bags can range from $500 to as much as $50,000, something that’s determined on a case-by-case basis. That’s because your product is not only being included in the bag, but also being heavily promoted by the planning firm.
Product samples are also donated by the participating brand. For something like the Grammys, where there were 130 bags in total, that can add up to a lot of donated product. Add that cost to the fees and it becomes clear that participating in these bags is a considerable expense and could easily blow a marketing plan budget.
For a brand thinking of participating, you need to weigh that cost against the potential benefits. In Monica’s case, potential media exposure for The Chai Box was worth the trade-off.
“Based on past experience, we always see a considerable increase in sales when receiving mentions in media and publications,” she says. “Given the high visibility surrounding the Oscars, we knew that the brand awareness would certainly make the expense worthwhile.”
The firms that make these bags put a lot of effort into promoting each item included, and indeed, this year’s Oscars bag received media coverage in publications like Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Forbes, The Hollywood Reporter, and others. Of course, there are no guarantees of product mentions, but that’s the gamble. The Chai Box was able to get some shoutouts, which it shared on Instagram.
The other hope is the celebrity recipients will share your products on their own social media, or be seen wearing or using it. It would be like working with the world’s biggest influencers. But again, there’s no guarantee.
For The Chai Box, Monica says there’s already been a bump in sales.
“Our customers have the option to write gift notes and, in a few instances, they noted that they gifted our chai because ‘it was included in the Oscar gift bags,’” she says.
“We still have our fingers crossed that one of the nominees will post about our chai on social media. One can dream!”