Getting Your Brand In the Bag
Celebrity gifting is perhaps one of the best ways to increase your brand awareness and your sales as well! It's no coincidence that brand products fly off the shelves the day after a celebrity is seen sporting them, especially on the red carpet.
As awards season is upon us, brands have utilized so many unique ways (often by the guidance of agencies like ours) to find a way to gift their products to celebrities. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares insights on celebrity lounges and swag bags during red carpet events from Distinctive Assets' founder, Lash Fary's experience and expertise.
A Little Background On Lash Fary
Lash Fary is Founder and President of Distinctive Assets, which is credited with catapulting the promotional craze of celebrity swag into a pop culture phenomenon. With the resume of top award shows that spans two decades and a client roster that includes a Who's Who of Hollywood, Lash appears frequently on numerous television programs as an expert guest, and is quoted regularly in a broad range of publications.
Lash blends a business degree from the University of Virginia's acclaimed McIntire School of Commerce, and management consulting background with the uniquely Hollywood pedigree that includes author, inventor, host, gift guru, entrepreneur, and influencer.
Highlight Q&As from The Marketing Mistakes Podcast
Question: Tell us a little bit about your background, how you became involved with celebrity marketing and endorsements, and, ultimately, launched Distinctive Assets.
Answer: I've been doing this for twenty years now. I cannot believe we're getting ready to celebrate our 20th Grammys. We started out, funny enough, in a slightly different lane. My company, Distinctive Assets, originally was selling clothing to costume designers on TV shows. So, we would go around to all the different sets and take racks of clothes to Dharma and Greg, and Will and Grace, and Ally McBeal, I'm dating myself because those were the hot shows of the time when we started, and the costume designers. We were like a veritable rolling Bloomingdale's, and we would roll into the set, and they'd buy the clothes, and everybody would win. The designers were mostly up-and-coming designers. They were thrilled that their clothing was getting on TV shows. We also worked with very large designers as well; it was a really nice mix.
We had jewelry, we had shoes, a little bit of everything, and while we were on the set, the actresses started gathering around when we would start rolling our racks in, and they're like, "Can we buy some of our personal stuff from you? You guys have such great stuff." So, we started selling to the actresses on the shows as well, and then they started asking us to do their holiday shopping, and so we started getting into gifts, and then a friend of a friend happened to be a talent broker on the Grammys and American Music Awards, and she would come to our shopping parties. She's like "You guys have such great stuff. Talent sits around twiddling their thumbs backstage at these award shows while they're waiting to go on for rehearsals. You should come in and give them stuff." She's like "I've often thought it would be sort of a cool platform, but I didn't even know how to start."
So, we launched it together, and it really just took off. We had no idea, at least in my mind, that it would be as massively successful as it's become, and because we were literally the first people to do it, no one knew, really, what we were even pitching them on. They were like "This sounds interesting." Tumi was on board at the very beginning, one of our early adopters; Sports Club LA, which is now Equinox, was a early adopter, and these brands were like "We would love to have celebrities at our resorts and at our clubs and using our products." So, why not? But we were making those first calls. We were like "We want you to pay us to give stuff to rich and famous people." Some of the brands were like "I don't really understand," and some were like "Okay, I'm in. Let's try it," and it was immediately a win, win, win.
Question: So, what are some of the types of opportunities that you can do partnerships with: Grammys and celebrities?
Answer: Well, we have been the official Grammy partner now for 20 years, as I said, and what's lovely about doing an official award show is that you get to be backstage. You're working hand-in-hand with the production team and the talent department, so you're not trying to get celebrities to come out of their way and go drive to a hotel that's off the trajectory of anything that they're doing. These are folks who were already there at rehearsals, they're already onsite, they're already in the zone of being at the award show and having fun. What we've done, and what we do at these shows, is become sort of an expected part to the point where when Mary J. Blige shows up at the Grammys, one of her first questions is "Where's the Gift Lounge?" because they know it's a fun perk.
I think a lot of people who do our events are surprised at the sort of level of folks who come through the Lounge because they're used to doing these offsite gift lounges where it's really hard to drag top-level talent to come to them. So they're there and you can tell they're the clients who are a little jaded, or they ask, "Is anyone really going to come?" I remember four years ago, our first guest, literally, our first celebrity guest, was Sting and he walked in, and I think people were like, "Wow. Legit people are really are going to be coming through this event." Then, Rihanna came through later in that day with her girlfriends, and I think people were really taken aback. "Oh, we didn't think Rihanna would do it." I'm like, "Rihanna loves it," especially if she's had a tough rehearsal. She loves to come through and shop on the condition that she can bring her girlfriends with her that she's brought, which we're happy to accommodate.
Justin Bieber has come through, and what I particularly love about, especially, the Grammys is that you get stars on the upswing a lot of the time. So, when Justin Bieber came through, he was just a little YouTube sensation from Canada that no one had really heard of much about at the time. The pictures from that Grammy Lounge he came through, probably, ten years ago now, some of these clients are still using, and are still using for promotion, and they're still able to say Justin Bieber received their gift because there's longevity to some of these celebrities, especially at the biggest show in music, which is the Grammys.
Question: If someone has never been to a celebrity gifting lounge, can you kind of paint a picture of what's the layout, what's it look like, and what are the opportunities for a brand to actually be there?
Answer: I love the way our Grammy lounges evolved. We used to be inside the Staples Center in a room inside, and, obviously, it's a physical room. So, we were sort of restricted in terms of how many vendors we could have there, how many clients who could have there. It was usually about 12 to 15, and then I don't know how it came up. I think my event producer suggested one year that we think about putting a big tent, like the tents that you go to these super lavish rich weddings with the bolted canopied ceiling and the sub flooring. So, now for the last 10 years or so, we put up a huge tent at the talent entrance of Staples Center where I can fit up to 25 clients, and we have more space. We have more storage; we don't have to deal with getting in and out of Staples.
It's much easier from a setup perspective. So, talent gets dropped off in their car, and, literally, 40 steps from where they walk into Staples is our entrance. So, it couldn't be more convenient for talent, and I can't stress how important it is that it's convenient for them because as much as Samuel and all the other celebrities love free stuff, they don't love it if it's inconvenient. That's the downside of them being able to afford it and not really need it is that they don't really need it. So, if it's not easy, they're not going to do it.
Nicki Minaj, for example, the year she was at the Grammys, I think it was four years ago now, she didn't have time. She was running off to Clive Davis' party, but she wanted her stuff. So, she pulled up her pink Bentley to the entrance, like 40 feet over. She pulled over, pulled up to the entrance, and rolled down the window, and asked if we could just bring the stuff to her car, which we did. It was sort of like drive-in movie style where we just like brought it right to her window for her...
So, in any event, the talent comes in, they check in. We assign them an escort. They get a huge duffle bag. It's sort of trick or treat style. They walk around to each vendor; they get an introduction. Each client is able to do sort of what I call their 90 second elevator spiel about their brand and why it's cool and what they're giving them. The celebrity gets it. We have WireImage or Getty they're taking professional photos that the clients get a copy of, again, if the celebrity is willing. Some celebrities won't hold the product either because they don't want to or it conflicts with a sponsorship that they might have, but they might take a picture with the company owners. That's always been Sarah Jessica Parker's sort of line that she draws. She won't take a picture holding a product, but she'll take a picture with you as the company owner, which I think is a lovely compromise for somebody who has endorsement complex.
Then, if they don't take a picture, again, you had mentioned this before, you can still pitch InStyle that Rihanna just came through and scooped up five pairs of sunglasses with her girlfriends. They're still a lovely story there because you have the personal interaction.
Question: Can the brand actually take photos, or do they have to rely on Getty, WireImage photographers that you have?
Answer: That's a great question. They cannot take photos on their own, on their cell phone or otherwise. There's an exclusive photography contract that the Grammys has with WireImage, so they have to provide all photography onsite, and you're getting a professional photographer anyway. So, it's kind of a win-win for the brands. They don't have to pay for it. It's part of what they're, separately ... It's all part of what they're paying my company to do for them. Then they get copies of the photos. WireImage uploads those daily, the best, and then after the event, we send them all the photos, even the good ones that weren't good enough to post online so that they have all the photos. They can never take pictures inside because there's all sorts of restrictions.
So, Daft Punk and Sia, for example, they're known for being costume-oriented and sort of their true identities are often shielded, so they have photo restrictions, but they don't want their photos taken, which we honor. It's really why so many celebrities, like Ricky Martin and Faith Hill and Rihanna, tend not to do other people's gift lounges, will do ours because they know when we say there's no photos, that we don't try to trick them, we don't take them secretly or clandestinely. We really, really respect it.
One year, Daft Punk came through, and one of the clients got out their cell phone and took a picture and it created a huge problem. Their manager was yelling. It ruined it for everybody else because they were going to go around to everything, and then after the third stop, they left because somebody took out their cell phone and took a picture.
So, we have very, very strict rules about it, and if you do it, we take your credential away, and you're escorted off the premises because it really does ruin it for everybody else.
Question: Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners today?
Answer: I would just say get involved. It's been something that for 20 years I can, personally, say I've seen it change the trajectories for brands and for products, and I'm not going to sit here saying every single brand that participates wins the lottery or have success because to your point, some don't do any of the requisite work to follow through or to send out a press release or to put pictures on their website, any of these basic things, but it's ... I, with great confidence, book clients into the Grammy Lounge. So, it's a template of success program. It's something that I look forward to doing year after year. Same thing with the Oscar nominee packages. These are things where the amount of press that comes out of these opportunities is phenomenal.
So, I just encourage brands if you've had a bad experience, give us a try, or try it again because I really do think that it's a powerful thing for brands and I'm so passionate about it, and I see the benefits for it.
To learn more about the importance of securing effective product placement, you can listen to the full interview in our podcast.
Secure The Bag For Your Brand
Interested in learning more about how to get your brand in a celebrity swag bag or how it can benefit you? We've written several other blog posts on celebrity gifting and you should check them out as well!
- And The Celebrity Gift Bag Goes To...
- The 3 Key Steps To Leveraging Celebrity Gifting
- Celebrity Gift Bag 101 Infographic
- How To #5: Celebrity Swag Bag Gifting
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