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There are two women who can cause websites to crash, phones to ring incessantly, and bidding wars to begin.

Kate Middleton and Michele Obama reign when it comes to driving fashion commerce. The Duchess’s choice in apparel spurred one brand’s reintroduction of a specific black boot that had been long gone from the shelves. It’s reported that her style choices have brought $1.5 billion into the British economy. As for First Lady Obama, J. Crew devised an entire strategy, including publishing custom web pages and investing in PPC ads, around the First Lady’s appearance on The Tonight Show.

This type of spark is what many brands are looking for when they invest in celebrity marketing and product placement. Paying for a celebrity endorsement is one route — a path that could cost anywhere between $750,000 and more than $5 million if the brand is creating a TV or campaign around the endorsement.

The other route is through gifting. You know the people who get gift bags at the Oscars, for example? The putting together of these gift bags comprises an entire industry that’s tightly controlled by a few public relations professionals who are matching brands with celebrities. In this post, I’ll explore the gifting industry and how it relates to marketing and social media, as well as peak into its future.

The Rise of Celebrity Gift Bags

The “Everybody Wins at the Oscars” gift bag made headlines this year due to both the contents of the bag and its value, which totaled $168,000. It included a year’s worth of Silvercar rentals, a $20,000 astrology reading, LED light therapy, an Italian vacation package, and a $1,200 bicycle, among many others. 

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Lash Fary, the owner of Distinctive Assets, selects and coordinates with brands for placement in the coveted bag, which has no official affiliation with the Academy Awards. He has being doing this for the past 13 years. 

More than 16 years ago, Fary was bringing apparel and accessories onto sets for television shows like Ally McBeal and Will & Grace. It was on these sets that he started getting requests to do personal shopping and gift selection. Eventually, his taste caught the eye of the organizers of the Grammys, which wanted to create a “thank you” gift bag for nominees.

“In the beginning, it was truly educating the brands on this new concept of placing their product with celebrities, getting press around it, and building marketing and promotional campaigns,” Fary said.

Today, most brands understand the value of gifting, which has led to more and more extravagant items in the bag. This is one reason why the value of the Everybody Wins bag has increased from $48,000 in 2013 to $168,000 this year. 

Distinctive Assets worked with Gibson Guitars for the Grammys, which resulted in a photo of LL Cool J backstage with the product.

A brand’s perception of what makes a product placement valuable has expanded in recent years, said Fary — and even the definition of a “celebrity” is evolving. Many brands are finding value in catering to people with thousands and even millions of followers on YouTube and Instagram or those with a highly engaged blog audience.

It used to be that getting a placement in the printed edition of InStyle or People magazine was the gold standard. Now, brands are focused on engagement rather than number of followers. They often value a photo on Instagram or Twitter more than traditional press placements. 

A Huge Marketing Opportunity

Fary and his team spent almost a year preparing for the Oscars’ “Everybody Wins” gift bag. It’s given to nominees who were nominated for but didn’t win the statue for best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, and best director. A bag is also provided to the host of the show. For someone like Meryl Streep (19 nominations and three wins), that’s a lot of swag to take home each year. 

Each brand whose products appear in the gift bag for the Oscars pays between $4,000 and $20,000 for the placement, and then the cost of the gift on top of this. Fary selects many of the brands but is also approached by those that want to capitalize on the press surrounding the Hollywood event. 

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