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The year in swag 2013: The war on worthlessness

Each year, The A.V. Club is inundated with mountains of promotional items. Some things—CDs, movie screeners, books—are sent so that they might be reviewed. Other items, like stuffed ostriches branded with the Arrested Development logo and bottles of champagne packaged with a tiny model of Liberace’s piano, are just sent to butter (and liquor) us up. Every December, The A.V. Club takes stock of this heap, from the junk to the stuff we’ve spent months fighting over. This year, in the spirit of capitalism, we even tried to put a monetary value on these gifts, because what’s a holiday season without mental calculations of what Mom, Dad, and your favorite publicist spent on the presents under the tree? Each item’s “worthlessness factor” is also determined, on a scale from 1 (actually pretty nice) to 5 (total garbage).

Item: A mockingjay pin
Promoting: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Relevance: In both the movies and the books, Katniss Everdeen wears a mockingjay pin as a sign of covert rebellion against Panem’s government. In real life, they sell this pin alongside a whole bunch of other Hunger Games merchandise at places like Hot Topic.
Worthlessness factor: 3. While the pin is actually kind of hefty, it’s probably made out of crappy pot metal in some depressing Chinese factory. Moreover, unless you’re a 12-year-old girl, it’s kind of weird to actually wear the Mockingjay pin out in public. Still, if you like the movies, it could be a nice accent for that midnight-screening outfit, or a nice in-a-pinch pushpin for a nerdy bulletin board.
eBay market value: At press time, there were about 200 of the pins on eBay, running anywhere from $3-$5. [ME]

Item: An iPod Mini, champagne, champagne glasses, headphones, a tiny piano, and more
Promoting: Behind The Candelabra
Relevance: In Steven Soderbergh’s dramatization of Scott Thorson’s life story, we learned that Liberace liked the finer things, and he wasn’t afraid to spend his money on them. (That included plastic surgery for his boy toy.) HBO spared no expense in this massive promotional package, including a branded iPod, a champagne bottle adorned with rhinestones, headphones with piano keys printed on them, and, umm, a tote bag. (Liberace would probably not have carried a tote bag).
Worthlessness factor: 1. The iPod, though embarrassingly emblazoned with Behind The Candelabra, works just as it should. The champagne was delicious. Laura regularly uses the headphones, so they’re getting some use. Overall, this package was probably worth more than everything else we got this year combined.
eBay market value: Somebody recently sold the iPod and the headphones together for $119. [JM]

Item: A box containing four “classic jokes”: a whoopee cushion, a fake bug in a plastic ice cube, snapping chewing gum, and the ol’ fake nail through the finger
The premiere of IFC’s The Birthday Boys
Well, The Birthday Boys is a comedy show, and these are jokes?Worthlessness factor: 4. Whoopee cushions are good for literally minutes of fun, but the bug in the ice cube looks pretty fake, and there’s no way anyone would ever fall for the truly tacky-looking “nail through the finger” gag.
eBay market value: The four-item set is currently selling for $10 on eBay, but a five item set with a joy buzzer is listed for $7.77. Neither is tagged with The Birthday Boys logo. [ME]

Item: A branded “retro” Coco Phone handset for use with a cell phone
American Idol
Against all odds, American Idol still uses phone-based voting, so this ear-friendly handset could come in handy if a viewer wanted to sit on the phone and just dial in for their favorite contestant over and over and over and over.
Worthlessness factor: 2. This thing could come in handy for long Sunday conversations with mom and for those times when you want to re-enact the “Telephone Hour” number from Bye Bye Birdie.
eBay market value: One has been listed several times for $10.99, but has had no takers thus far. [ME]

Item: A big bag of Superman swag, including a reversible cape, a plush version of the superhero, General Zod baseball cap, Metropolis LEGO set, a Quick Shots Superman slingshot, cute molded-plastic Zod, and large classic Superman figurine
Man Of Steel
Pretty darn high. Even the bag is branded “C. Kent.” While none of the action figures in the bag look like anyone in the movie, it’s more of a nod to the Superman story’s legacy than to the actual actors.
Worthlessness factor: 1. Together, this grab bag would make some Superman-loving kid (or adult) really, really happy. 
eBay market value: The bag isn’t available in its entirety on eBay, but every item (except for the “C. Kent” bag) is available individually. Together, not including shipping on each item, the whole thing would go for about $100. [ME]

Item: A colorful beanie with a little plastic propeller on it
Promoting: Uncle Grandpa
Relevance: The title character in Cartoon Network’s new series wears one of these beanie propellers all the time. He’s also shaped like an L and wears a fanny pack, and he’s the uncle and grandpa to all the children of the world. The show plays like Ren & Stimpy, though without that level of subtlety.
Worthlessness factor: 4. I should really reserve judgment and see if my 3-year-old likes it, but it’s too small for an adult head.
eBay market value Somebody has the beanie plus a press kit priced at $49.99, with no bites. There are no completed auctions. [JM]

Item: A jersey with colorful Arnold Schwarzenegger on it
Promoting: The Last Stand
Relevance: In his comeback action role, Arnold Schwarzenegger—former governor of California—plays a cop in a small town who’s far from his days fighting bad guys in the big city. Director Kim Ji-woon, in his American debut, made the bold choice to dress Schwarzenegger in the type of T-shirt/jersey thing that was popular in the ’70s. No, he didn’t. There’s no relevance to this shirt.
Worthlessness factor: 3. Fashion-wise, this isn’t going to cause much of a stir, but if you just want to keep your torso and about three-quarters of your arms warm, it could be perfect. Also, no one will think you’re a wimp if your shirt depicts a bunch of guys shooting guns, as well as a bunch of explosions.
eBay market value: There are many available on eBay, most unsold. Those that have sold have been in the $6 range—barely enough to buy a replacement shirt. [JM]

Item: A gray T-shirt with a tie printed on it
Promoting: Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Relevance: Not immediately clear. While T-shirts are worn by many people in Brooklyn, no one on the show has worn a shirt like this, though we imagine that Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta could. In the pilot, Andre Braugher’s character Captain Holt asks Peralta to wear a tie, but Peralta’s response is to wear a tie with underwear. Perhaps we are just to imagine Peralta’s whimsical sense of humor as we wear this T-shirt, confident in the knowledge that a fake tie is sending the appropriate irreverent message to our patriarchal, capitalist overlords.
Worthlessness factor: Squarely a 3. The T-shirt is clothing, and therefore wearable, but the tie makes it tacky enough that even though we could wear it, we don’t really want to.
eBay market value: Currently on sale. Opening bid is $5.50, buy it now for $10.50. So far, no bids. [SS]

Item: A pillowcase with Ty Burrell’s face on it, reading “Rest Assured”
Promoting: Modern Family
Relevance: Toward the end of season four, Burrell’s character Phil Dunphy goes to extensive lengths to impress Luke and Manny’s classmates at Career Day (and to one-up Gil Thorpe, his nemesis). So he makes a lot of promotional swag for his real-estate business, including this pillowcase (which Claire refuses to have in the bedroom, because it freaks her out).
Worthlessness factor: 2. It’s a pillowcase. If you run out of linens and are too lazy to do laundry, it could cover your pillow. But it has Phil Dunphy’s face on it and is made out of some highly flammable nylon. We’d have nightmares.
eBay market value: These have sold for anywhere from $1.04 to $10 in recent weeks. [SS]

Item: A deck of tarot cards and a black candle
Promoting: Witches Of East End
Relevance: Lifetime produced a show about witches in a place called East End. As far as we know, witches use tarot cards and black candles. We can’t prove this, and it doesn’t happen in the show. But that’s the connection.
Worthlessness factor: 5. What, you’re not interested in trying to exercise your latent magical powers by holding a séance with occult equipment doled out by the promotional powers that be at Lifetime, Television For Women? What’s wrong with you?
eBay market value: The boxed set has one bid of $30. [SS]

Item: A framed Futurama cross-stitch
Promoting: The Simpsons And Their Mathematical Secrets book
Relevance: It’s fairly apt given the book’s subject matter, even if choosing Futurama as the piece of promotional swag over The Simpsons is a bit confusing. It reads:“10 Home / 20 Sweet / 30 Go To 10,” which is a reference to a welcome pattern hanging on a wall in Philip J. Fry’s apartment, and the joke itself a programmer’s play on “Home Sweet Home.”
Worthlessness factor: 4. Though somewhat charming, it’s nothing more than a decoration to throw on a desk or coffee table until the tedium of having to explain the joke supersedes its humor.
eBay Market Value: It’s not on eBay yet, but since the market for Futurama embroideries is fairly well saturated it could probably be had (or made) for cheap. For the sake of putting a price on it, let’s say $3 and a handful of Popplers. [DA]

Item: Key and key chains in a velvety black bag
Promoting: Last Vegas
Relevance: In the film, a group of seniors throws a bachelor party in Vegas for one of their friends. Presumably they stay at a hotel, and the keychain resembles an old-school room key. There’s also a promotional Last Vegas keychain that advises, “You’re never too old for Vegas, baby.” (Hey, remember how people were saying “Vegas, baby!” after Swingers 17 years ago? Good times.)
Worthlessness factor: 4.5—sometimes a keychain can be handy, we guess.
eBay market value: Someone was selling the ensemble for a $13 starting bid, but with one day to go at press time, it had zero bidders. The same person tried to sell it before at $15, so if fans hold out, it could come down in price even more! [KR]

Item: A picture frame/book
Promoting: Awkward Family Photos, the website/game/calendar
Relevance: The website collects people’s awkward family photos, and this is a frame for readers’ own dorky pic. It also opens to reveal other pictures tiled on the interior, with a space to tell the story of whatever goofy photo a person chooses to display. And it includes three stickers that can be affixed to the front: “Born To Be Awkward,” “Awkwardness Runs In My Family,” and “Say Cheesy!”
Worthlessness factor: 4. The back of the frame is held on by small Velcro circles that come loose easily, and the whole thing feels like it could fall apart at any moment.
eBay market value: We couldn’t find it among the 139 results for “awkward family photos,” so we’ll guess someone could get maybe $2 for it. [KR]

Item: Box of junk food
Promoting: The Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show
Relevance: The show airs on Friday nights at 10 p.m., though its late-night repeats sometimes pull in higher ratings, presumably when comedy fans stumble home from bars. IFC has prepared a box of junk food catered to those late-night tastes: Easy Cheese, Funyuns, ramen, Yoo-hoo, and we think some cookies and candy, but someone in the A.V. Club office swiped those. And by “late-night tastes,” we mean “drunk/high people,” judging by the copy on the box: “ENJOY THESE MUNCHIES WHILE YOU WATCH COMEDY BANG! BANG! …COMPLETELY SOBER.” What, no winking emoticon?
Worthlessness factor: 2. There’s probably $8-$10 worth of food in here, or maybe we should say “food.” We’ll upgrade this factor to “1” should the apocalypse happen while we’re at work and we need sustenance. Who’s the nutrition snob now, huh?
eBay market value: It’s also not available, but someone is selling the 1988 senior yearbook of Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman for only $189 (or best offer). Creepy! [KR]

Item: Poster autographed by DC Comics artist Shane Davis
Promoting: Mad Max the video game
Relevance: Although Davis didn’t draw the Mad Max motion comic or work on the video game, he drew this “special edition” poster as part of the Comic-Con publicity push ahead of the game—which isn’t coming out until April of 2014.
Worthlessness factor: 3. It’s a neat enough poster if someone’s a big Mad Max fan.
eBay market value: At press time, two were up for purchase, one for $79 and one for $99.99. Someone tried to sell one earlier for $50, but found no takers.  [KR]

Item: Candy hearts with anti-love phrases
Promoting: The Jeselnik Offensive
Relevance: The mean messages printed on candy are probably supposed to mimic the way Jeselnik smiles when making jokes about sacred cows.
Worthlessness factor: 4. Sweethearts are a perennially underrated candy. But these are of a knock-off variety that have no satisfying candy crunch, and pairing phrases like “Be My Ex” and “Not Ever” with the show tagline “Love is cruel. So is he.” belies just how wide-ranging and funny Jeselnik’s take on the late-night show can be.
eBay market value: These haven’t hit the online marketplace yet, but in looking for anything related to Necco Sweethearts, we discovered that a fragrance exists. [KM]

Item: DSLR camera-shaped USB drive with branded lanyard
Promoting: The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Relevance: Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) works at Life magazine, dreaming about the life of a photojournalist (Sean Penn), so it combines the trapped in the office/dreaming of the field aspects of Mitty’s life.
Worthlessness factor: 2. Thought it’s a bit clunky compared to the average USB drive, it has a perfectly acceptable capacity (2GB) for office use. Removing the lens to use it imparts the fleeting photojournalist feeling that Walter Mitty has when imagining his extreme adventures.
eBay market value: There’s no sign of this online yet, but a 2GB flash drive should never cost more than $10, even with the molded shape and lanyard. [KM]

Item: Playing cards
Promoting: They Might Be Giants
Relevance: It’s a weird deck of cards with odd illustrations from a band that prides itself on residing left-of-center.
Worthlessness factor: 2. TMBG—the band responsible for one of the greatest moments in Undercover history—got New York Times illustrator and graphic designer Paul Sahre to make them a set of playing cards. And instead of simply redesigning the old standards, the deck replaces the regular suits with Myths, Hoaxes, Paranormal, and Cryptids, complete with King/Queen/Jack illustrations unique to each category, like the jackalope, minotaur, alien, and Loch Ness Monster.
eBay market value: There’s one up now at a buy-it-now price of $12.95. [KM]

Item: Hooded sweatshirt
Promoting: Sleepy Hollow
Relevance: As in the Washington Irving story that inspired the supernatural series, Sleepy Hollow’s Big Bad is a former Hessian soldier separated from his head. (In one of the series’ many, many departures from its source material, Ichabod Crane’s decapitated tormentor is also one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.) The zip-up hood of this garment is intended to make it appear that the wearer too has lost their marbles (and eyes, nose, mouth, ears…)—though the full effect is more akin to what the noise punks of The Locust would look like if they took more stylistic cues from Paul Revere And The Raiders.
Worthlessness: 3. Though it smartly takes into account the grime, grit, and guts accumulated during 200-some years in the afterlife, the design of the hoodie is undercut by its shiny polyester shell. The thin fabric doesn’t seem like it would protect the wearer from a stiff breeze, let alone a battle-axe heated by the flames of Hell.
eBay market value: $150—maybe it’s better at beating the cold than we assumed. [EA]

Item: Stuffed ostrich, banana-shaped USB drive, poster, iPhone 5 case, and brown paper bag
Promoting: Arrested Development’s Netflix revival
Relevance: Most of Netflix’s promotional efforts for the fourth season of Arrested Development were predicated on inside jokes and callbacks that had lapsed into the stuff of Internet memes even before Fox canceled the sitcom. Packaged in a chuckle of familiarity (in the form of a bag labeled “DEAD DOVE DON’T EAT”), this lot of Bluth Company swag comprised jokes that wouldn’t fully make sense until the recipients watched all 15 of the show’s new episodes. In a sense, it was the experience of watching the season in miniature: A lot of information needs to be doled out before the joke of carrying your phone around in a FakeBlock-branded case truly lands.
Worthlessness: 2—though, considering how much of it eventually became decor around the A.V. Club offices, closer to a 1. But if the ostrich ever saps our strength and virility, we may have to downgrade all this stuff to a “triple sell.”
eBay market value: Apparently, most of the recipients felt the same way, as a search for the items drew nothing but blanks. Though “Arrested Development flash drive” turned up a $7 script for “Charity Drive” a.k.a. “The one where Buster bids for the wrong Lucille.” [EA]

Item: Arcadie iPhone + iPod Gaming Dock
Promoting: Fox’s toxic Dads
Relevance: High, if the defining trait of the series was Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi’s video-game development firm. But Arcadie’s vintage-arcade knockoffs like Blasteroids and Alien Invaders From Outer Space don’t also spout racist garbage and sexist nonsense in the guise of subversive humor, so low.
Worthlessness: 4. Non-branded versions of the dock retail in the low-to-mid $20 range, and they’ll be stacked high at the local Kohl’s between Boxing Day and New Year’s—at a deep discount and minus the association with a series that’s made a catchphrase out of “I no clean that.”
eBay market value: Plunk down 45 quarters—or 40 for zero Dads branding and no loss of dignity. [EA]

Item: Jack-o’-lantern shaped drawstring backpack filled with candy
Promoting: The Simpsons’ “Treehouse Of Horror XXIV
Relevance: The show’s 24th Halloween special begins with one of the rare trick-or-treating-based segments within the “Treehouse Of Horror” canon, riffing simultaneously on The Cat In The Hat and Halloween Is Grinch Night. Onion Inc. staffers were happy to partake in the Fox Broadcasting Corporation’s All Hallow’s generosity, though the candy feast has yet to result in any sort of “Treehouse”-style ironic punishment.
Worthlessness: 3. The backpack would make suitable accompaniment for the multiple gym trips necessary for working off all that candy—but it’s really only fashionable one month out of every year (and even then, orange is a difficult color to pull off).
eBay market value: Without the screener DVD, the bag goes for $13; with it could go as high as $49.95. But neither offer includes the candy, so they both deserve to be egged. [EA]

Item: Terrifying Edgar Allan Poe mask
Promoting: The serial-killer/cult thriller The Following
Relevance: The shoddily assembled disguise is an eerie replication of the ill-fitting dress-up preferred by the murderous devotees of The Following’s Poe-obsessed killer, Joe Carroll.
Worthlessness: 1. We’ve hated having this thing around since January (“Sure, but how do you feel about the Following mask?”), but the pranking opportunities it affords are priceless.
eBay market value: As testament to the show’s inexplicable popularity, one seller is offering a version they picked up at Wondercon 2013 for $99.95 (or best offer). [EA]

Item: Sprinkles vanilla cupcake mix
Promoting: MasterChef Junior
Relevance: Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot would never allow the young chefs to present them with dessert made from a box
Worthlessness factor: 3. Sprinkles cupcake mix is prettily packaged and comes with baking cups and decorative sugared “modern dots” (though A.V. Club testers agreed the dots were actually pretty disgusting). In a blind taste test against homemade cupcakes made from a Martha Stewart recipe, A.V. Club testers showed only a mild preference for Martha’s vanilla cupcakes. So… this mix is pretty good. You still have to make your own frosting, though.
eBay market value: You can purchase the exact same product, but without the MasterChef Junior branding, for $17.94 (but free shipping!), $4 more than on the Sprinkles website. [LMB]

Item:“Summer Under The Stars” cardboard drink coasters
Promoting: Turner Classic Movies’ annual summer programming promotion, “Summer Under The Stars
Relevance: For each day in August, TCM’s programming centers on a particular movie star of yesteryear. Each coaster is decorated with a questionably accurate silhouette likeness of its star. This set includes Doris Day, Alec Guinness, Mary Boland, Charlton Heston, Joan Fontaine, Steve McQueen, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, and Clark Gable.
Worthlessness factor: 1. These coasters work just as well as the ones swiped from the neighborhood pub, and make a pretty decent (if somewhat cheap) gift for a classic-movie buff.
eBay market value: Here’s a tip: The word “collectible” may trump the “cardboard” descriptor. This particular set has yet to make it to the site, but several other comparable coaster sets are available in the $5.99-$9.99 price range. [AB]

Item: Angry gingerbread-man air freshener
Promoting: Joe Hill’s novel NOS4A2
Relevance: The book’s villain, Charlie Manx, is an ageless 140-year-old with a 1938 Rolls-Royce who abducts children and takes them to Christmasland, his amusement park. Manx’s car smells like this.
Worthlessness factor: 4. The fake, chemical, gingerbread smell is so strong, it had to be encased in a Ziploc bag.
eBay market value: Nil. But you could probably use this especially pungent piece of cardboard to get rid of the faint musk of decomposition emanating from the couch you scored super-cheap off eBay. Don’t kid yourself: Someone died on that couch. [AB]

Item: Women’s black T-shirt that reads “Your time is almost up”
Promoting: Joanne Charbonneau’s new book series, The Testing
Relevance: After penning “a glee-club mystery” series and another mystery series where the premise is that the protagonist wears roller skates, Charbonneau has decided to try her hand at the dystopian-future, teenage-heroine trend. In the future, only by passing a series of life-threatening tests are promising teenagers allowed to attend college or repopulate the earth.
Worthlessness factor: 2. Although very few passersby are likely to have read the series debut, the vaguely threatening message emblazoned across the front still works.
eBay market value: A plain black T is available on eBay for 99 cents, but if by chance this series does turn out to be the next Hunger Games-esque phenom, those shirts are currently $11.99. [AB]

Item: Coffee mug and hot-chocolate packet
Promoting: The Dexter DVD sets
Relevance: Dexter and most of the main cast work in a police station, so presumably they drink coffee a lot. But that’s probably true of most offices… I haven’t seen the final season—maybe Dexter clubs a serial killer to death with a coffee mug and that’s why he becomes a lumberjack?
Worthlessness factor: 2. It’s a coffee mug. We have hundreds of them in our office, and we never run out. But we could always use one more, I guess, and this one came with a packet of Ghirardelli hot chocolate (which I intend to mix with Rumchata).
eBay market value: According to a completed eBay listing—this went for $18.50, with 13 bids—this is in fact a color-changing Dexter mug: Put hot water in, and it reveals a bloodstain. [JM]

Item: Fake book with hidden flask
Promoting: Adult Swim’s Rick And Morty
Relevance: Though I haven’t seen the new animated show from Community creator Dan Harmon, I understand that Rick, the time-traveling grandpa, likes booze. This clever promotional item hides a metal flask (complete with Rick and Morty likenesses) inside a hardcover book called The Big Book Of Boring Science Things, presumably to drive away those who might locate the precious booze therein.
Worthlessness factor: 3. Probably great for a big fan of the show, but the flask itself isn’t particularly nice.
eBay market value: None found for sale. This kind of cheap flask can be had for $5 or less, though. [JM]