TIFF 2015: The business of celebrity gifting lounges

Celebs get to reap the benefits of gifting lounges, but so do the companies showering them with freebies. Global News

TIFF 2015 is officially underway. And for celebrities, that not only means walking the red carpet but also getting a few perks from the celebrity gift lounges.

Swag bags are serious business

At the Oscars this year, A-listers walked away with more $200,000 each in free goodies, which included everything from a train ride through the Rockies to a “liposuction and fat reduction package.” And companies pay big bucks for the opportunity to gift their products to stars.

Not counting the cost of the actual merchandise, it can cost up to $100,000 for a company just to be featured in some of the biggest gifting lounges. Others are a little more reasonable. Stacey MacDonald of Airdrie, Alberta, feels lucky she only had to pay a $400 application fee to put her handcrafted soaps in the hands of celebrities at the 2015 Emmys later this month.

Story continues below advertisement

At TIFF’s Tastemakers Lounge, the costs (which fluctuate yearly) can range from $2,500 to $25,000, with each swag bag valued at around a grand. Celebs who swing by can expect beauty products, massages, boots and cocktails.

Sahajan is a new organic Ayurvedic line making its world debut at the Tastemakers Lounge.
So many Sorels to choose from!.
Sore neck? This lady will fix you right up.
After checking out what they'll be taking home, celebrities can kick back with a cocktail.

‘Why do we give all this free stuff to celebrities who can afford it?’

The seeming injustice of the whole concept of a celebrity gifting lounge seems to annoy a lot of people. This is how Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski, whose company rock-it promotions puts on the experience, breaks it down.

Story continues below advertisement
“Many people don’t understand how intense [actors’] schedules are and a small break to receive some treats is just plain fun. And everybody is entitled to fun.

“I would say that every job has its perks and for celebs, this is theirs.”

Erica Robles-Anderson, who teaches a course on fame at New York University, understands how this may seem like another example of how “the rich get richer,” and receive things that others (who can’t afford them) could probably benefit from more. But she also sees celebrity gift lounges as a modern trading post where services are exchanged.

“You’re not paying somebody for something, but you’re not giving it voluntarily. But we all know, of course, that there are strings attached. We’re trying to woo somebody to put a little bit of their recognition power into our product. In a way, it’s an ask.”

The idea, obviously, is that if stars are spotted with a certain product, it will be elevated to their level of fame. And often times it works.

Story continues below advertisement

Robles-Anderson said the reason for that boils down to evolutionary psychology. We’re built as social creatures to attribute importance to things that other people also know about. So 2,000 years ago, that would’ve been Caesar, whose face was circulated on coins. With the rise of photography and modern media, celebrities have filled that power void, replacing it with their own image.

WATCH: Liem Vu explores the happenings at the IT Lounge for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival

“Celebrities kind of reflect the mood of people in general. So they’re like loud-speakers. They’re also avante-gardists,” said Jean-Pierre LeBlanc, co-founder of Saje, a Canadian natural health and wellness line marking its second year at the IT Lounge.

Story continues below advertisement

“If they tell you it’s cool today, it’s cool tomorrow…things move very quickly.”

Social media definitely helps with that. It can also lead to potential problems. For instance, the FDA recently had to issue a warning about a product Kim Kardashian endorsed on her Instagram.

The other perk of gifting lounges

At the end of the day, the freebies benefit the businesses as much, if not more, than the stars who receive them.

“The way I like to see it is as an opportunity. Tastemakers allows a start-up brand to really play on the global stage,” explained Lisa Mattan.

She’s the founder of Sahajan, an all-natural, Ayurvedic line of beauty products making its world premiere at the celebrity gifting lounge. Mattan admitted that taking part in the event is an investment, but one she feels is well worth her while.

Story continues below advertisement

Advertising isn’t cheap. She figures a digital ad that runs three times on a big publication’s site could cost her $2,500. A full-page magazine ad can cost as much as $20,000, she estimates. Putting the money into a gifting lounge spot allows her to promote her product in an intimate face-to-face setting.

While her product can be mostly found online right now, she hopes to parlay her gifting lounge experience into a spot on retail shelves across the country.

It’s not just new entrepreneurs that benefit. Canadian footmaker Sorel has been around for more than half a century and is the title sponsor of this year’s Tastemakers event. The company’s goal there is to promote their fall footwear, since most just associate them with winter boots. They’re also showcasing their new winter coats which will see them enter Canada Goose territory.

Beyond the products, celebrity gifting lounges usually have a charitable component to them. Tastemakers donates to Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital and has stars sign a board that is later auctioned off. And the IT Lounge, put on by Natasha Koifman’s NKPR, raised $1.5 million last year with its Artists for Peace and Justice gala.