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In the bag

January 16, 2006

A GOODIE BAG IS FINE for the hoi polloi. But how do you stuff a vacuum cleaner and a $695 espresso machine into a bag? For the presenters at tonight's Golden Globe Awards, it requires a treasure chest -- one covered with tasteful plaid fabric, naturally -- to hold all the booty they'll plunder from corporate sponsors.

Among the swag: a certificate for a $22,000 cruise to Tasmania, Antarctica and New Zealand on a 54-cabin ship, including airfare for two to Argentina and "arctic gear" to wear during the journey; a $2,000 diamond ring; a pair of $1,250 designer jeans with a diamond for a button; and a couture outfit for the star's canine accessory, complete with carrying case. In all, the swag bag is worth more than $62,000.

Once an afterthought, the awards-show goodie bag has become such a promotional opportunity that its contents now attract nearly as much scrutiny as the designer dresses that cling precariously to nominees' figures. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., sponsor of the Golden Globes, is kind enough to issue a press release listing the contents and retail value of both the gift bags given to the regular folks in the audience (worth a measly $1,332) and the kingly, Christmas-in-Versailles offerings for the screen deities who open the envelopes.

The point of all this, of course, is real-world product placement. Companies are betting that passengers will be thrilled to share a cruise with Tom Cruise, even if he bounces up and down on the chaise lounges and raves about the evils of psychiatry. If somebody takes a picture of Drew Barrymore wearing the $375 Salt Optics sunglasses she'll be taking home, the company wins. (For that matter, the mere mention of Salt Optics' name in an editorial about Golden Globes swag means Salt Optics has already won.)

Sometimes, though, the gift bags serve an even crasser purpose. Movie and TV stars have become such a rarefied set that when it comes to lesser-known presentations, you have to entice them with expensive tchotchkes to get them to show up.

Variety reports that the latest trend in celebrity sucking-up is the gift lounge. Backstage at the Critic's Choice Awards, presenters and recipients got to choose from among $20,000 worth of goods, including smart cellphones and, doubtless most popular of all, Lasik surgery. All of which raises the question: Do we really need awards for which even the nominees care so little that they have to be bribed to accept them? And more important, how do we get Heath Ledger to wear a Los Angeles Times sweatshirt?

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