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Oscars 2014: Companies hope to lure celebs with products at swag bag event

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From beauty products to designer clothes, celebrities are showered with free, lavish gifts during awards season.

But swag bags and events organized around them don't just benefit celebrities. They help companies that put together the luxury events and companies that publicize their products at them -- and they often cost the companies that donate the swag a load of money.

"People say, 'Wait, you make money from your swag bags?' and I tell them, 'Yes, there's actually a business behind it,'" said Amy Boatwright, one of the owners of Secret Room Events, a brand and product marketing firm.

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The "Everyone Wins at the Oscars" Nominees' Gift Bags, for those who are not lucky enough to take home an Oscar, are produced by Los Angeles-based niche marketing company Distinctive Assets. (Check out last year's coverage.) The bags are worth over $80,000 each, and include items such as vacation vouchers, spa treatment certificates, R. Murphy Knives and handcrafted bangles by Jan Lewis Designs.

But on Saturday, Boatwright's firm hosted a luxury red-carpet-style lounge event at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills for folks who weren't even required to be nominated to attend.

Boatwright's swag bags included cosmetics and skin care products as well as such products as Mouth Party caramels and a Poopy Carrier canine cleanup bag.

The company holds similar events before other awards shows, including the Golden Globes, Emmys and MTV Awards.

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About 250 people, including Oscar nominees, RSVP'd to the event, which lasted from morning to night. However, due to rainy L.A. weather and the overlapping Film Independent Spirit Awards, not as many celebrities came to collect their swag.

This didn't deter the vendors, who still paid Secret Room Events between $1,500 and $25,000 to set up booths at the event and to donate their products to the swag bag.

"There's so much buzz around the Academy Awards anyway, so it's just one more thing we can use from a marketing perspective to sell products," said Monica Flores, the senior marketing and communications manager for Nerium International, a skin care product company.

Annamarie Sabo paid $10,000 to bring her jewelry company La Corza to the event, because she said there are many perks to this kind of exposure.

"Obviously, there's celebrity interaction," she said. "But there's quite a business strategy to it -- advertising, marketing, networking, resources."

The Seattle-based company, which has been in business for about eight years, had a similar marketing display at this year's London Fashion Week.

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"I did a lot of research about these kinds of events [and] honestly I have to say it's surpassing my expectation," she said. "I've gained really strong relationships and more interaction." 

Some celebrities who attended agreed the event was a way to support businesses and learn more about different products.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill, whose documentary "Dirty Wars" is nominated for an Oscar, said it was a chance to experience a swag bag event and help out Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (SPCA LA), which was the benefiting charity.

"I've never been nominated for an Oscar," he said. "You get bombarded with invitations when you get a nomination. I'm a dog lover, and the fact that this event benefits animals stood out to me."

Rob Steinberg, who played a supporting role in "12 Years a Slave," said, "It's always interesting to see things and try them out."

James DuMont, who plays the father of Jared Leto's character Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club," echoed similar opinions.

"It's an opportunity for new products to be launched in the marketplace," he said. "And in the entertainment industry, we go to a lot events so being able to use these kinds of products is great ... and gives free advertising [to companies]. I think there's a great reciprocal value to it."

saba.hamedy@latimes.com

Twitter: @saba_h

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