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Oscar gift bags: The best kept secret in town

Contents kept hush-hush until Feb. 23
/ Source: Reuters

Oddly enough, things go kind of quiet in Hollywood, the capital of celebrities and gossip, right before the Academy Awards.

There’s a lot of hush-hush surrounding which designer gowns the stars are wearing, which plastic surgery and beauty regimens they are undergoing and which escort they will be taking to Tinseltown’s biggest night of the year on Feb. 29.

But perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of all revolves around the coveted “goody bags” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences provides to Oscar presenters.

“We do not talk about gift bags,” an Academy spokeswoman said.

According to industry sources, the Academy sent an e-mail threatening to ax anyone involved with the “bags” if they leaked the contents before a Feb. 23 media embargo.

While most people who attend Hollywood functions regularly get “swag,” these party handouts are in the minor leagues compared with the Academy’s goody bags.

In lieu of payment to the stars who read out the winners’ names on Oscar night, these gift bags have morphed over the past few years from modest trinkets to extravagant packages, including week-long safaris, fine jewelry, electronic gear and leather goods, valued in total at upwards of $25,000.

Getting products into the bags is a major promotional coup for a company, turning the whole phenomenon into a multimillion-dollar free-for-all filled with enough intrigue, politics and drama to warrant a best movie nomination.

Better response“Product companies are finding that rather than going the traditional route of advertising, there is a greater response from product placement with celebrities,” said Karen Wood, president of Backstage Creations, which is compiling gift bags for the Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday.

And while the contents of the “official” Oscar gift bags are a well-guarded secret until the week of the Oscars, many other companies like Victoria’s Secret, have also jumped into the fray.

The retailer provided gift baskets valued at $12,000 each to this year’s best actress nominees. They consist of lingerie, fragrances and a removable diamond brooch.

Experts said the media often confuses which items are in which bags.

“Few people know what’s in the official Oscar baskets, but it gets all tangled up in the media and it’s a little disconcerting to the everyday person,” said Shelly Howell, a spokeswoman for Micato Safaris, which provided a 10-day safari, valued at $6,000, to last year’s Oscar goody bag.

For the stars, awards season can be one big bonanza, with some nabbing as much as $100,000 in freebies accumulated from bags from various high-profile awards shows in a few weeks.

According to Howell, only 5 percent of the celebrity recipients used the Micato safari to East Africa.

“The ultimate goal is getting celebrities in the entertainment community aware of the company and East Africa,” she said, declining to say which stars took the safari.

Indeed, one celebrity endorsement can go a long way, and according to the experts, celebrities for the most part are  often very gracious and grateful for their gift bag booty.

In addition to the gift bags, nominees are often showered with products, gift certificates and invited to free boutiques from major cosmetics companies and clothing manufacturers during Oscar week.

But getting anyone to reveal what the big stars will be wearing before the big night is nearly impossible.

Things are so secretive that top hairstylists to the stars like Frederic Fekkai are often booked in advance but not told who their clients will be until shortly before the event because actors and their agents fear the word will get out.