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The Most Viral Swag 🛍️
How to create conversation-starting swag items, and why “Low Content Books” are trending right now.
Let’s be real: 99% of startup swag is just blah.
I recently went to a cybersecurity conference and got sprayed with useless swag. I mean, literally, entire bags filled with useless swag.
Pens, bottles, notebooks, socks, t-shirts, stickers, toys, passport holders, hats, playing cards, wallets — you name it.
But there’s a new category of swag that’s currently exploding all over social media, which I consider to be anti-useless (=useful).
📚 Enter: “Low Content Books”
Low-content books are books with minimal or no content on their pages, typically used for note-taking or journaling. Planners, journals, agendas, and guestbooks fall under this category — and they're catching fire online.
The global search volume for these books is growing massively, and they’re also becoming mega-popular in online communities like “booktok” (book reviews on TikTok).
With 7.8 million views on TikTok, it's a trend worth paying attention to.
🔑 The 3 Golden Keys of Viral Swag
To turn swag from boring to trending, it must:
Match our brand without being too promotional: For an eco-friendly startup, a reusable shopping bag with a logo isn’t enough. Instead, a bag with “I’m a Planet Saver!” is spot on. The swag should be inspired by the brand — not made out of it.
Give people a sense of self-expression: People constantly seek out ways to communicate their identity to others1 and swag can help with that (e.g. Mailchimp’s weird hats). If you’re B2B, create swag with their logo (instead of your own). Or, even better, put positive statements about the end-user.
Be sharable: If they aren’t snapping a pic and sending it to their friends, we’re doing it wrong. The secret is to create something so extraordinary that it becomes a conversation starter (e.g. Tesla’s tequila).
Think of the “T-Shirt Test” (beautifully described by Reid DeRamus here): Would someone wear our logo on a t-shirt as a symbol of their identity? If not, it’s a signal to craft something more creative that people will be proud to use and share.
Cloud-observability startup Kentique created a perfume named “The Fragrance of Observability.” Accompanied by a funny video mimicking old-fashioned ads, this is exactly the kind of swag that makes cloud engineers happy (as they feel seen and ‘in the know’).
And, of course, Low Content Books tick all three keys:
They are related to the industry (☑ #1), they are, by nature, a canvas for someone’s thoughts, creativity, or plans (☑ #2), and their sharability is already proven (☑ #3).
🔥 Why Low Content Books are Swag Superstars
Since it's just now trending, there aren't many examples of companies doing it yet, creating the perfect opportunity to do it first.
How top brands could spin it:
Duolingo: “The 5-Minute Language Diary” — A language-learning diary filled with cultural trivia and QR codes that nudge users back to the app.
AirBNB: “Home Away From Home Logbook” — A travel logbook encouraging guests to jot down memories and sketches from their trips. Perhaps there could even be an Airbnb-branded guestbook waiting in each property.
Microsoft: “The Productivity Planner” — To promote Microsoft Teams or Office 365, Microsoft could release a productivity planner with built-in tips and tricks for completing more tasks with their software.
Slack: “The Slack Off Journal” — A diary for employees to record activities they did when they were on “Away Mode” on Slack, i.e. off screens & away from keyboard.
HubSpot: “The Inbound Ideas Journal” — Marketing and sales teams could brainstorm content ideas, sketch out buyer personas, and track the success of their campaigns, all with pre-made templates and prompts.
X (Twitter): “The Real-Life X” — What if X launched a ‘Post Your Day’ pocket notebook? With space for just 280 characters about your day, users would chronicle their years in tweet-like summaries, prompting concise reflection.
🎪 Parody Books: The Funny Cousin
Parody Books = a sub-genre of low-content books with a twist.
These don't invite readers to write; instead, they’re filled with humorous, meaningless content or empty pages.
A parody book could be a dictionary with made-up terms (we created one at Wiz), an endless list of something irrelevant, a picture book with serious adult content, just a print with the first 1,000,000 digits of pi, and so on.
The humor of these books usually lies in the fact that they exist at all.
Consider these parody books ideas for market leaders:
Spotify: “The Silent Playlist” — Empty sheet music pages for the entire book.
Google: “The Lost Searches” — Thousands of the most bizarre, nonsensical search queries that Google has ever received (anonymized, of course).
Netflix: “Life Beyond the Screen” — Blank pages only, hinting at life outside binge-watching.
Mitre: “The CVEs of 2022” — A hefty collectors’ book that lists all the known vulnerabilities of last year in print, just for the sake of it (if you know, you know).
Zoom: “The Mute Collection” — Every page is a full-page image of a gesture or a face that people make when they realize they’re on mute during a call.
Tinder: “Swipe the Page” — A party book that users must open on a random page, and each page is a made-up Tinder profile. Users should then decide if they swipe left or right, and literally flip the page in that direction. Then repeat.
Linkedin: “Unreal Opportunities” — A collection of jobs no one should apply for.
🎈 Not Only For Conferences
Lastly, here are a few ideas for distributing our winning swag:
Send to the most engaged customers, or just before their yearly renewal.
Send to churned customers in the resurrection phase.
Send to industry influencers (“to recognize your substantial contribution to the [your industry] world, and to thank you for your inspiring us to join it”).
Set up an online shop for the brand, with free credits to the groups above.
Wildcard: Put it up on eBay, and gather some friends to start a bidding war to make it seem like it’s worth an absurd amount of money (then tweet about it).
Consider sending some of your swag with a golden ticket, Willy Wonka style.
🧠 To recap…
It's time to reimagine swag—not as useless items, but as engaging, shareable extensions of your brand. Swag that reflects your brand's personality, boosts self-expression, and is designed for social media. Low-content books are a prime example of this new world in action.
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Read more about the benefits of giving people a chance to express themselves here: Melumad, He, and Pham (2017). The pleasure of liking (disliking). Journal of Consumer Research.
We value things more when we feel we own them.
We’ll pay disproportionately more for something we’ve helped create.