Oscars: Studios, Banned From Courting Academy with Swag, Focus on Journalists

Items sent out this awards season include a mini-statuette of Birdman, Sprinkles cupcakes, a foot-long chef's knife, vodka and personalized LEGO characters.

Strict Academy rules prevent studios from sending "swag" — souvenirs, wearables and gifts that tie-in, in some way, with a film — to Oscar voters. But studios, perhaps in an effort to reach voters circuitously, do still send out those sorts of items — what one studio marketing official describes as "mostly low-end, kitschy items," most lines of which cost several thousand dollars to manufacture and mail — to journalists.

Source novels, making-of coffee table books, bound scripts, commercial soundtracks and the like have become de rigueur. More memorable giveaways, in years past, have included a hamburger phone like the one in Juno, a ukelele like the one in The Descendants and a director's chair like the one in Hitchcock. (Fox Searchlight, which distributed all three of those films and giveaways, is really good at this stuff.)

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The aforementioned studio official says, “We wouldn’t call what we send 'swag,' we call them 'promotional items.' Some places in the past have sent things that had nothing to do with the movie — a Lincoln cookbook, for example, is a little outside the box, and that's what I would call swag." Is the goal to engender more favorable coverage and/or dissuade negative coverage? No, the official insists. "What we send are things related to the movie that are meant to whet journalists' appetites to cover a film, usually before it comes out."

This year's standouts include a mini statuette of the title character in Birdman that recites his mantras at the push of a button (Searchlight again), as well as a foot-long knife (Open Road Films' Chef), Sprinkles cupcakes (Cinelou's Cake), black-and-white chocolate bars (Relativity Media's Black or White), a bottle of vodka (DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon 2), a wrestling sweatshirt (Sony Classics' Foxcatcher), a pair of socks (from — and like those given away in — RADiUS-TWC's Keep on Keepin' On) and — as you've probably seen on your journalist-friend's Facebook profile — a personalized LEGO character (Warner Bros.' The LEGO Movie).

As for Whiplash drum sets and American Sniper rifles, one can only assume that they have been lost in the mail.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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