The Intersection

So I’ve spent the past many days moving across town. Not a terribly far jump, just enough to change my zip code by one digit. The transition has caused me to sift through a seemingly endless pile of loot collected at conferences and events… many of which, bestowed unto me in the name of conservation.

I’m not just talking calenders and totes either. There have been major expenditures under the umbrella of some organization or other wooing participants with free trinkets. Posters, stuffed animals, key chains, stickers, magnets, reading lights, magazines, buttons, tshirts, beer (American Fisheries Society 2003 in Quebec), photographs, air fresheners, paper weights, stress relieving squeeze toys, pencils, pens, notebooks, gum, calculators, card holders, hats, shorts, lunch bags, text books, picnic blankets, pillows, plants, candles, coasters, CDs, DVDs, videos, bookmarks, condoms (Society for Conservation Biology 2007 in South Africa), light bulbs, batteries, zip drives, guidebooks, computer sleeves, towels, mugs, shell casings, wind up toys, lollipops, ear plugs, purses, maps, plush microbes, bracelets, frisbees, blankets, picture frames, fish-shaped mardi gras bead necklaces, blow up floats, chap stick, biographies, back massagers, chocolate, fans, plaques, clocks, flags, postcards… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And yet this seemingly titanic island of logos was mainly constructed thanks to non-profit agencies out to protect the environment, save biodiversity, promote science… [insert NGO mission of choice]. Gazing upon my burgeoning discard pile is mildly disheartening as I realize how much funding was likely spent to provide so much clutter. And yet, these symbols of different orgs have stayed with me for years, which I guess is the point, right? Little reminders that these groups are hard at work and need public support.

And so folks, what do you think, wasteful spending or beneficial advertising? Or more interesting, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever received at a meeting?


  1. #1 Walker
    November 25, 2008

    Usually you just get tote bags. Good lord do I have lots of tote bags.

    The CS research conferences I go to usually give out boring stuff. USB keys (in addition to tote bags). But GDC gives out some pretty unusual freebies (especially if you troll the vendor booths for their swag). Last year I got a 4 oz bottle of an energy drink for gamers.

  2. #2 Robster, FCD
    November 25, 2008

    A small foam liver. Also a highlighter pen that every single person who has seen it assumes it is roid cream, and not the sports related kind…

  3. #3 Anne
    November 25, 2008

    The best thing that I have ever received at a conference actually did do quite a bit for “green living.” The U of Minn. has an annual energy, environment, and economy conference (E3) and last year Xcel (major utility) gave attendees copies of the Blue Sky Guide, which is a coupon book for products and companies with a green criteria. It sells in stores for $25, I think. I used a lot of the coupons and discovered new local stores and products.
    I feel like I have seen an overall decrease in swag at conferences and expos.
    The weirdest thing was an owl pellet, but the conference was about science education and kids love dissecting owl pellets.

  4. #4 Tim
    November 25, 2008

    The tackle box from the same 2003 AFS meeting where we got the beer and mardi gras fish beads you listed.

  5. #5 Becca
    November 25, 2008

    Wow. And I thought chap stick was weird. Back in the day, when I used to go to engineering career fairs for the swag, we got a lot of toys. Frisbees, bouncy balls (that light up!), little gumby like dolls with logos for heads, ect.

  6. #6 Orac
    November 25, 2008

    When it comes to me, I think you know the answer to that question.

  7. #7 scicurious
    November 25, 2008

    Sigh, if I have to get one more tote bag…but the good thing is that I can use them as grocery bags.

    Best thing: underwear. That doesn’t quite beat the condoms though. It was special wicking fabric (I actually got it at a race, but free underwear? I mean really).

    I want to go to the conference with the beer.

  8. #8 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    November 25, 2008

    Orac’s EneMan is definitely the most memorable so far. I checked the website:

    Meet EneMan, a new superhero created by C.B. Fleet Company, Inc. to draw attention to the importance of colorectal cancer screening.

  9. #9 sunnygrrlSB
    November 25, 2008

    As someone who must purchase these types of items for outreach purposes, but is concerned about the non-greenness of it all, I would be interested in hearing what types of things people actually use (other than the beer!)?

  10. #10 Tuatara
    November 25, 2008

    Free beer with a corporate logo. What a great idea!

  11. #11 TomJoe
    November 25, 2008

    I’ve used the couple of lanyards I’ve received at meetings I’ve attended, same goes for the highlighters and pens. I DO NOT use the tote bags.

  12. #12 DrugMonkey
    November 25, 2008

    Sigh, if I have to get one more tote bag…but the good thing is that I can use them as grocery bags.

    HEY NOW! (or did I neglect to give you one?)

    …I will mention that the wise schwag consumer checks to see if the tote bag has either a bellows type or flat bottom before accepting it- the cheapos don’t work well for grocery shopping….

  13. #13 Eric the Leaf
    November 26, 2008

    As a textbook author and publisher, I see the exhibition halls from set-up to break-down. It is an unbelievably energy intensive operation powered almost exclusively by fossil fuels. The booths, tables, chairs, rugs, electricity, shipping, and whatnot cost enormous sums of money and the conventions as a whole are huge inputs to the local economies. I do not expect conventions such as these to survive long into the post-peak oil era.

  14. #14 Dr. Kate
    November 26, 2008

    I once got a lobster made out of red pom-poms (the little ones, not the ones used by cheerleaders)–it was to advertise the national meeting the following year, which was to be held in Boston. I also got a business-card holder with the log of a company I don’t work for (I attended a conference sponsored by that company). Truly–why am I going to carry my Acme, Inc. business cards in a A-1 Corporation business-card holder?? Oh, and once I got a brain-shaped eraser (together with a pencil that reads “Brain Awareness Week”).

    To answer sunnygrrl, the things I find most useful are logoed versions of things I use every day–pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, magnets, etc. The novelty things–stuffed animals, squeezy toys, tackle boxes (tackle boxes? seriously?), etc., I don’t find very useful. They’re also very hard to carry back with you, especially if you have to fly somewhere.

    Cool posters and calendars can be good, too.

  15. #15 A. Nonymous
    November 26, 2008

    A rather obscure intestinal parasite from another continent?

  16. #16 WoW Gold
    February 25, 2009

    Well, we all receive a caricature of ourselves along with a box of donuts. Weird? Nah, the donuts are good though.

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