No Oscar? How About a Gift Bag?

Perhaps just as exciting as winning an Oscar is being one of the lucky people who get a gift bag.

This year, presenters and performers at the Academy Awards received some $20,000 in merchandise in a gift "bag" that is sometimes so large that celebrities ask for it to be shipped to their homes, say industry insiders.

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which chooses which products will get into the bag, would not officially comment on what was included, many companies are often more than happy to tell the world that their products are among the items that end up in celebrities' clutches.

This year's goodies included a $1,500 private dinner party for the recipient and friends at any Morton's steakhouse worldwide, a pair of Beamer Video Phones valued at $499 together, and a four-night stay worth $1,500 at Rosewood's Badrutt's Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

But it's not just the official Oscar bag that celebrities had to look forward to. Other marketing companies organized "unofficial" Oscar bags worth as much as $40,000, while companies like Estee Lauder provided free spa days to help the nominated actors and actresses get ready for the big night.

Cost-Effective Word of Mouth

In this slumping economy, well-paid celebrities are probably the last people who need baskets full of freebies like mink slippers and skin-care products. But marketers say the gift bag has become one of the most coveted — and relatively inexpensive — ways to get exposure for a product.

"It's just a direct opportunity than traditional advertising to reach the talent, and then reach the consumer, through the PR generated around the gift bags," says Samantha Milo Haft, owner of On 3 Productions, a New York City-based event-planning firm that also does gift bags for events. "One photo of a celebrity wearing your product can ignite sales."

Indeed, the celebrity gift bag has become one of the hottest and most competitive ways for companies to get their products into the hands of a celebrity in the hope that he or she will wear your product in public, show up at your hotel, spa or restaurant or mention to a reporter their favorite brand of eye cream — and get priceless exposure.

"They want to get into the hands of celebrities and they want to get media exposure," says Jane Ubell-Myer, co-founder of Buzz Bags, a New York-based gift bag firm. "It's a very inexpensive way to get into the hands of celebrities."

Celebrity Endorsements

Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based firm that specializes in product placement and gift bags, decided to do its own $40,000 "unofficial" Oscar gift bag for nominees who didn't take home a statue at the end of the night, in part because many of the company's clients who weren't in the official Oscar bag wanted to get some celebrity exposure. Among the items included in the bag were a $4,400 gift certificate for Lasik eye surgery and a $200 pair of mink slippers by footwear designer and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Taryn Rose.

Distinctive Assets co-founder Lash Fary says he thinks the recession has only boosted companies' craze for stuffing celebrity gift bags.

"As they're cutting back on their marketing and advertising budgets, they're looking at creative ways to get publicity," says Fary.

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