EVERYONE'S A WINNER

Inside the $232,000 Oscar “gift bag” that requires multiple suitcases to deliver

Don’t be shy, Jennifer. Every nominee gets a swag bag.
Don’t be shy, Jennifer. Every nominee gets a swag bag.
Image: Reuters/Adrees Latif
By
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

For the actors and directors attending the Oscars on Sunday night (Feb. 28), it’s an honor just to have been nominated. But they’re also eligible for more than $232,800 worth of free swag—if they want it.

The Oscar gift bag is a well-known perk of being in the running for Hollywood’s biggest award, even though it hasn’t been part of the official festivities since 2006. That’s the year the Academy, under scrutiny from the IRS, discontinued its custom of giving out lavish, tax-free gifts. But Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm, has carried on the practice independently. The bags, however, aren’t about rewarding nominees. They’re an advertising opportunity for interested companies, and this year’s bag is the biggest ever, at more than a quarter-million dollars in retail value.

The range of products and prices in its “Everyone Wins” 2016 Nominee Gift Bag, which it will offer to the 25 nominees in acting and directing this year—plus host Chris Rock—is dizzying. There’s a Haze Vaporizer that costs $250, and a 10-day, all-expenses paid trip to Israel, from ExploreIsrael.com, worth $55,000. There is also Chapstick and a Mission1 protein bar, both valued at $6. Not least of all is a donation of 10,000 meals to the animal shelter or rescue of the nominee’s choice, sponsored by Freekibble.com and Halo, Purely for Pets, a company that makes holistic pet products.

An item from Distinctive Assets 2016 Oscar gift bag
One standout freebie: a three-night stay at Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como, Italy.
Image: Distinctive Assets

There are oddities, too. Recipients get a Vampire Breast Lift, valued at $1,900, which uses “blood-derived growth factors to revive rounder cleavage,” as well as an ultrasound-based plastic surgery treatment costing $5,530. Also included is a two-month supply of toilet paper from Joseph’s Toiletries, apparently worth $275. And there’s Nuelle Fiera “Arouser for Her,” which is described as “not a sexy toy” but a health and wellness product that uses “suction and vibration” to stimulate arousal.

An item from Distinctive Assets 2016 Oscar gift bag
Enjoy your vaporizer.
Image: Distinctive Assets

The Academy isn’t exactly friendly with Distinctive Assets. It previously asked the company to make clear that it has no affiliation with the Academy, and earlier this month, filed a lawsuit against Distinctive Assets alleging trademark infringement. It says Distinctive Assets is misleading people into thinking the bags are distributed by the Academy with slogans such as “Everyone Wins At The Oscars®! Nominee Gift Bags.” But Distinctive Assets contends it has always made clear they are not associated.

Which makes you wonder how Distinctive Assets delivers all this stuff, since it’s not like it can just leave a bag on someone’s seat.

According to the company, it sends the goodies to the nominees’ homes and offices the day after the Oscars—in luggage. “Sometimes it takes a couple roller duffel bags in fact,” the spokesperson told Quartz. They do it after as a consolation prize to the losers, though this year, for the first time, winners can get the bags, too. In 13 years, Distinctive Assets, which also gives out bags for other award shows, says Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh is the only person to turn down a bag. Some celebrities may give away the bags, or auction them for charity, and many of the products probably go unused—not that it matters. The bags are, above all, a marketing ploy.

An item from Distinctive Assets 2016 Oscar gift bag
Oscar nominees can get free Dandi patches, even if they’ve never heard of them.
Image: Distinctive Assets

The items are all donated by the companies, which pay for the privilege. The entry level fee to Distinctive Assets for all its work in assembling, distributing, and publicizing the bags is $4,000, but there are more expensive promotional levels, too.

The value of the bags, meanwhile, keeps ticking upward. Last year, it was $168,000, and 21 went out, for a total of more than $2.5 million in combined freebies. The year before, the value was $80,000, a pittance compared to this year’s haul.

“The increase in value is directly attributable to the addition of high-value vacation packages in recent years that we didn’t include early on,” Lash Fary, founder of Distinctive Assets, tells Quartz. “This year’s unusually high value of over $200,00 was a happy accident based on some amazing big-ticket items like the ExploreIsrael.com vacation ($55,000), Lizora ($31,200), and the Walk Japan Tour ($54,000).”

An item from Distinctive Assets 2016 Oscar gift bag
“Mazel Tov on your Oscar nomination!”
Image: Distinctive Assets

If Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win an Oscar this year, he can comfort himself by vaping his way across Japan on a walking tour, fueled by personalized M&Ms and Hydroxycut gummies—all with perfectly moisturized lips, courtesy of Chapstick.

Here’s every item in Distinctive Assets’ 2016 gift bag: