Aug 24, 2011

BlogHer ’11: Strategic branding or over-gifting?

Brands at Blogher: strategic marketing, or just too much swag?

I’ll start with the fake eyelashes.

Why fake eyelashes? Because at BlogHer 2011, sweets company Skinny Cow was offering them — and free ice cream — and the attitude at BlogHer was very much “Why not?”

So I snacked on an ice cream truffle bar and stood in line for a beauty professional to stick fake lashes to my eyelids. The gluing was less than pleasing, but I was incredibly amused by the whole experience.

I’m guessing that was the point.

The expo at BlogHer in San Diego last weekend took conference tchotchke to a new level, and brands literally handed over products by the boxes like we were trick-or-treaters.

Companies heavily wooed bloggers with swag, and the goodies were over the top. Free pens, reusable grocery bags, and big bowls of candy didn’t cut it with this crowd.

We’re talking some serious loot.

Pfizer (#pfizerblogher) handed out yoga mats, Robitussin, ChapStick, ThermaCare heated back wraps, Advil, and Caltrate.

Dr. Scholl’s was giving out smushy inserts for heels and reuseable flats for tired conference feet.

Lindt gave out big chocolate bars.

Quaker gave flip flops.

Ella’s Kitchen handed out baby food by the squeezy bottles.

Johnson & Johnson reps strolled the expo floor, unloading gift bags with toothbrushes, baby shampoo, and Band-Aids.

Office supplier 3M gave away Post-it products and highlighters.

Veteran BlogHer attendees (who clearly knew the takings were good) shamelessly deposited gifts into rollerbags.

I had never seen anything like it. As a journalist, there are major ethical reasons why the taking of such gifts is prohibited. But it seemed — at least at this conference — that the rules for bloggers are a little different.

All companies at the expo hoped that bloggers would like the products well enough to write something up.  And when brands didn’t have actual goods to give away on the floor, some companies chose a different tactic:  Send a gift box to the blogger’s home after collecting their contact information.

That was P&G’s strategy with its ‘Home Away from Home’ at house at BlogHer — a mock home on the conference floor that allowed bloggers to tour, and visit each room and product (Tide, Pantene, Swiffer, Cascade, etc.).  At the conclusion of the tour, bloggers could drop their info into a computer and order a gift box of products to be sent free to their home.

Other companies offered other experiences like cooking demonstrations and plenty of food stops.

Lee Jeans offered jean fittings with the help of a special tent on the expo floor.

Tropicana invited E! News host Giuliana Rancic to pose for pictures with fans, while other conference attendees sat in the back getting pedicures.

Google reps took the opportunity to showcase Google+ and show bloggers how to use Circles and Hangouts.

One mommy blogger said it took her four hours to get through all the vendors at the expo. The variety of companies at BlogHer truly was impressive.  For BlogHer watchers, it’ll be interesting to see how high the bar was set this year with conference swag.  Could this be a trend with blog and social media meetings?  Does the swag distribution pay off for brands?

We shall see.

Christine Cube is a media relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @cpcube.

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