“Swag” is the abbreviated form of the phrase “stuff we all get.” It is the term used to describe the gifts that celebrities get whenever they grace an event with their presence. These can include the glitzy awards nights, the opening parties, or the high-profile gatherings where some “star power” is needed.
So yes, “swag” can be seen as some form of incentive to get stars to come—and the bigger the celebrity status, the bigger the “swag” should be. For example, the 2006 Academy Award presenters came home with a staggering $100,000 worth of items, including vouchers for trips, gadgets like iPods and digital cameras, and high-ticket fashion items. Not a bad “goody bag” in exchange for a few minutes on the stage.
However, it’s not just the celebrities who benefit from the “swag.” Companies who give them away also have some form of vested interest. For example, if a celebrity gets a free Prada bag and starts using it—photographed, of course, by the paparazzi who hound her every step—then it’s free advertising. This is infinitely cheaper than paying the celebrity to appear in an ad, and purchasing that ad space in magazines or TV.
Media personalities will also get swag, but definitely not in the same amounts. Editors may receive samples of a product to encourage them to write about it, and to see its benefits or its features from a personal perspective. For example, it is customary for cosmetics companies to send press samples of makeup to beauty editors, or for software companies to ask media to review a new game.