All That, and a Bag of Gifts: The History of Celebrity Swag Bags

Entertainment Gifts

As if being beautiful, rich and famous wasn’t sufficient (but, enough about us), celebrities have been given bags full of gifts for attending award shows like the Golden Globes and Oscars for years. From the swag bag’s more humble beginnings as a small token of appreciation to a promotionally driven, IRS attention-worthy, six-figure price tag. Some bags have seen more controversy than some of their recipients’ time in the spotlight. (What’s up, 2007 Britney?) Read on for a glimpse into the history of the rags-to-riches spectrum of gifts, and how to snag one of these A-list swag bag gifts for your very own.

In the beginning

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sponsored and distributed these swag bags originally to thank their presenters and nominees for coming to the Oscars; and they were pretty modest. Likened to party favors at a children’s birthday—but without the Play Doh. For a starving artist, a several-hour award show meant several hours of unpaid work. Even a bag totaling thousands of dollars could mean “a slow day” for a celebrity, Jay Leno once joked. Starting in the early 2000s, the Academy upped their ante on gift bags. They raised the swag bag’s price tag to 10s of thousands to properly thank their guests for attending.

Plastic surgery, death and taxes

Just as certain as plastic surgery and death are for A-listers, so are taxes. In 2005, the IRS came knocking at Beverly Hills doors asking for Uncle Sam’s cut; the value of the gifts’ contents were now too high to ignore. Even though people like Leonardo DiCaprio leave things like bookkeeping up to their accountants, the Academy felt a ‘gift’ that had to be paid for was a little insincere, and discontinued their sponsorship of the annual tradition.

The show must go on

Alas, it was curtains for the celebrity gift bag as we knew it. But now enter its understudy: companies like Distinctive Assets. Owned and operated independently from the Academy, this company seized a lucrative guerrilla marketing opportunity and provided companies the chance—nay, the privilege—to get their products into the perfectly manicured hands of celebrities and, subsequently, the press.

Tone it down, we bag you

In the current news climate, outrage is used as a sort of currency and Distinctive Assets wanted to buy-in big. In a never-ending quest to whet the media’s insatiable appetite, stars have been gifted a newsworthy gamut of products from a bottle of Windex to a walking tour of Japan (valued at $54,000). Last year’s gift bag was estimated to be in the six-figure range—or, over 30,000 Windex bottles, we’re guessing.

Objection, your honor

Not sure if it was the Vampire Breast lift (yes, this is a real thing), the sex toy or maybe the Windex in one year’s gift bag that sparked the most outrage. But, whatever it was, the Academy was not pleased. Distinctive Assets was hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit. The Academy wanted nothing to do with this swag bag in the slightest. Headlines were focusing on the atrocity of the gifts and their relation to the award show—no mention of their disassociation with the Academy. At the hands of Distinctive Assets, these types of gifts painted a tarnished version of the golden reputation this award show had worked so hard to establish.

“Present” day

Though the range of gifts still varies from Chapstick to “Sweet Cheeks” cellulite butt pads, Distinctive Assets seems recently to be practicing a little more wholesome gift giving. If last year’s CPR instruction kit wasn’t chock-full of wholesome intention, we don’t know what is. Last year, celebs also only received luxury resort stays in California, Hawaii and Italy; quite modest in comparison 2016’s 10-day all-expenses-paid trip to Israel ($55,000), which stirred up a bit of controversy on its own. Other outlandish gifts used to include a year’s worth of Audi car rentals ($45,000); a $2,000 gift basket and $5,000 worth of plastic surgery treatments. Although, the stars may have seen all this coming since 2015 if they only had redeemed their $20,000 psychic reading voucher.

What’s in it for you

It’s typically not before the award show that one gets a look behind the scenes—or, into the gift bag. But we at Man Crates want to give you a sneak peek of one of the products featured in the official Golden Globes swag bag this year. If the Secret Stash Personalized Flask doesn’t make for a great conversation piece, it will surely make great gifts for men.