February 22, 2006

Celebrity “gifting” reaps what money can’t buy

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - What do you get for the star who
apparently has everything?

How about a diamond-encrusted bra and panty set? Or a
22-carat gold leaf and crystal hammer, value $2,500?

These are just some of the goodies being sent to Oscar
nominees this year in an explosion of celebrity gifting by
companies hoping for the kind of publicity that money can't buy
-- a star seen using their phone, wearing their purse or
gushing about their coffee machine.

What started out in 1989 as a discreet thank you gift from
Oscar organizers to the (unpaid) presenters of the Academy
Awards has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry that has
spawned a wave of freelance gifting and the arrival of the
"gift lounge" at most of Hollywood's movie and music awards

"It's certainly something that the Elizabeth Ardens and
Casios and Procter & Gambles of the world have seen and deemed
to be so valuable that they do it year after year," said Lash
Fary, owner of Los Angeles-based Distinctive Assets.

Fary, whose company has a reputation for "impressing the
seemingly unimpressible," said his first gift bag -- for Grammy
presenters seven years ago -- was worth $5,000. Companies pay a
hefty fee to Fary to have their items included as gifts.

This year his Grammy gift basket was worth about $65,000
including a guitar and a coupon for Lasik eye surgery. His
Oscar "loser bag," to be handed out after the March 5 award
show to the non-winning Oscar nominated actors, actresses and
directors, ranges from the sublime (three days in a private
suite at a Las Vegas hotel) to the mundane (a stain removing
pen and a tin of breath mints).

"Seven years ago it was a much harder pitch ... (but) our
industry has been fueled by pop culture magazines. They need
celebrity content," Fary said.

The payback for this year's Victoria's Secret gift to the
best actress Oscar nominees -- a $15,000 bra and panty set
embellished with a (removable) Chantal Thomass gold and diamond
brooch -- is less tangible.

"It may not be something that you will see as obvious on
the red carpet but (lingerie) is something that is very close
to every woman," said Victoria's Secret spokeswoman Sara Tervo.

"We're not about exploiting exactly what bra and panty some
celebrity wears but we do have a lot of celebrities that like
our products. For us it is always valuable to have high-profile
women that are fans of our brand," Tervo said.


Swag is not always about lavish items like the $22,000
cruise to Antarctica, which was included in the Golden Globes
gift basket. One recent gift lounge -- a private room where
celebrities are introduced to their swag and its makers --
featured $1,000 worth of Tupperware and a single cup coffee

"When you have everything at your disposal, it's sometimes
the little things that mean more," said Fary, who said most
celebrities are both genuinely grateful for the gifts and happy
to work without charge when they turn up at awards shows.

Some commentators have criticized the ethics of showering
already rich stars with free stuff but Fary says they are
confusing philanthropy with marketing.

"The only backlash is one of misunderstanding," he said.
"It's no worse than Budweiser buying an ad at $1 million for 30
seconds at the Super Bowl."

In a twist to the gifting explosion, the Web site
Swagtime.com was launched four months ago to allow
non-celebrities get their hands on some of the goodies.

Billed as "what was exclusive is now inclusive," the site
tells consumers what was in those celebrity baskets and where
they can buy the next big thing. It also auctions gift bags for
charity and promotes the smaller businesses pitching their
wares to the stars.

Fary sees no sign of the gifting phenomenon ending any time
soon. "It's just like taking a bottle of wine to a dinner
party. It's just polite. It's never going to go away."