As creative problem solvers, using merchandise as an experiential tactic has never been about making cool swag. Like any meaningful experience, the merchandise we create is about building emotional connections and meeting people where they are, and right now, people are in their homes. Brands have the opportunity to make physical connections with people within the most intimate settings of their lives.

Merchandise is so much more than just a branded t-shirt, instead it’s a tool for connection. Merchandise can go beyond creating temporary excitement; we use it to grow relationships by demonstrating to the recipient that the sender understands what they need to make a moment special. Because isn’t that what we all need in life? The chance to make an otherwise ordinary moment, special?

Last year, ADVOC8 partnered with YouTube Gaming to develop a unique custom swag experience for attendees of the 2019 Game Awards After Party. The theme was Jungle Party. Our Merch Team decided on Hydro Flask water bottles, but we wanted to elevate the experience of the handoff between the guest and YouTube Gaming. An on-site laser engraving activation imprinted individual guest’s water bottles, leaving them with a bottle that was 100 percent unique to them. The experience gave attendees a chance to engage with the merchandise and take part in the creative process, making a simple water bottle much more special.

YouTube took their merchandise game to the next level when it turned its Brandcast presentation into a completely personalized experience that took place exclusively in people’s own home. This event is typically held at well-renowned venues such as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, but the pandemic forced them to release Brandcast Delivered, a virtual event in which attendees could customize the musical performances, hosts and type of content they wanted to see.

To match the level of interactivity as the in-person event held, YouTube mailed each attendee a personalized pizza box or package of carefully-curated swag. The at-home kits extended YouTube’s reach even further, as items could be long after the event had concluded. It created a buzz on social media among those who had received them, and exponentially increased the level of excitement and engagement with the event’s programming.

The pandemic shed light on what was already growing in importance, the necessity to connect with audiences beyond the phone or TV screen.

Tangible connections are a strong tactic for brands to cultivate deeper relationships with consumers. We’re seeing this take place with the growth of subscription boxes, in which personalization is a key differentiator for those who don’t believe one-size-fits-all anymore.

As you think about how to connect with your audience who is suffering from screen fatigue, consider going into their homes (in a non-creepy way) by delivering them a tangible experience beyond a branded piece of merchandise.