Each golden Oscar statuette costs about $500 to make, although of course its monetary value ends up being more than that. But for those nominees who don't get that particular golden ticket, Los Angeles-based marketing firm Distinctive Assets will give them something pleasant to wake up to — a swag bag worth $45,000 will be waiting on their doorsteps Monday morning. (This is in addition, of course, to the scores of “gifting suites” that take place in fancy hotels in the days before the Oscar ceremony, in which celebrities — or their handlers — can pick up thousands of dollars worth of free goodies…just because.)
“This is designed to be the ultimate consolation prize for those who don't go home with an Oscar Sunday night,” says Lash Fary, founder and president of Distinctive, which has been crafting the “Everyone Wins” gift bag for 11 years. Twenty nominees (the four losing nominees in the best actor/actress, supporting actor/actress and director categories), plus the host of the show, will receive the goodies (sorry, sound mixers).
The gift-bag items run the gamut from trips to Australia, Hawaii and Mexico to gift certificates for injectable fillers to condoms to tequila to hand-illustrated tennis shoes to gluten-free macarons. The highest-ticket item ($12,000) is a stay at a choice between two luxury resorts in Australia — one located atop the Great Barrier Reef, the other in the middle of the Outback. The bag also includes a $7,400 gift certificate from a home-design firm and something called the Vampire Facelift, valued at $5,000. There is also a $600 session with a “celebrity acupuncturist/nutritionist,” and classes with “North America's only all-kid pro Cirque troupe” valued at $400. Oh, and a self-help book by Leeza Gibbons valued at $24. The smallest-ticket item is Windex Touch-Up Cleaner in Glistening Citrus Scent, $3.99.
“We embrace the more is more philosophy and try to have a product mix that is as eclectic and diverse as the nominees themselves. We seek items that are either fun, fabulous or functional (or all three!). While each individual nominee may not personally love each and every item, our hope is that even when an item isn't for them it is fun for them to be able to share/regift with those they love,” Fary says. (Which nominee is the gourmet maple syrup, we wonder?)
According to Fary, each company being included in the nominee gift bag pays a placement fee to Distinctive, “for our efforts in assembling and publicizing the gift bag.” The set fee “is somewhat variable based on multi-show deals, multi-product referrals by a single PR firm, exceptionally high retail values, etc.” For example, a multi-show deal — such as a company's participation in the Grammy and Oscar gift bags — lowers the fee per show. The companies' goal is a mention in the media, or, even better, to have a celebrity photographed wearing or using their product.
“Sometimes a specific client gets a press mention and that translates into immediate sales,” Fary says. “But more often it is simply an enhanced perception by consumers…star dust, if you will. But because no one company is providing the $45,000 value, the individual marketing and PR benefits achieved by each individual product participant really can add up substantially.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, stopped its practice of giving pricey gift baskets to presenters and performers in 2007 after the practice came under scrutiny by U.S. tax authorities. The IRS decided that the free trips and other goodies should be considered reportable taxable income — and that does include Fary's “loser” bags.
However, since then, an “underground,” unofficial, awards-season celebrity gifting industry (including various parties that hand out gift bags) has boomed, as it's more difficult for the Feds to track.
So around Oscar season, the rich get richer, and the poor … get the stuff the celebs don't want. “Here is some special Windex for you, my fine housekeeper! I am off to Hawaii, ta ta!”