Backpacking Dad’s Silicon Valley Holiday Gift Guide

12/07/2009 By Shawn Burns

A few weeks ago the Silicon Valley Moms Blog ladies invited me to a party with the sponsors of their Holiday Gift Guide. What a weird thing. When asked if they had seen how I tend to interact with brands they said yes, and that I was invited anyway. I met with people representing both large and small brands. I was loaded down with three bags of stuff of varying value. I met Enoch Choi.

I think I was invited mostly so Enoch wouldn’t be the only dude.

So, what follows is a Holiday Gift Guide, based entirely upon interactions with people or first impressions of products that I haven’t actually used. It’s about as subjective as possible, as far as reviews go, since I don’t know anything about the products. But even though it’s subjective I think it’s still important for me to tell you what it is I was given at this party, because blogging is weird and stupid and yes, you can get free stuff and that is weird and stupid. You’re like my Catholic priest in the confessional. “Forgive me father, for I have swagged.”

I don’t care if you buy products from these companies. But some were represented really well by their people or products, and some were not represented so well. I’d like to talk about that.

I’m just going to go in the order in which I pulled things out of the bags today.

These first five companies, I believe, are all Silicon Valley/San Francisco companies. They kind of banded together to present their stuff at this party, with Michelle from Zooni doing the talking. Let me just say, these folks did it right. See, the bloggers attending the event were asked to write up bios and fill out questionnaires that the brand reps would read so they could get to know the bloggers a little before they met them. As far as I could tell none of the reps read the bios, except for Michelle (and maybe Rick from Tiny Prints, but we’ll get to Rick later). Michelle quoted mine back at me when she met me. Automatic Win. It made me wish that I hadn’t written complete and utter nonsense in my bio. Michelle also, when given the opportunity by me to describe the mom entrepreneurs who founded these companies as “mompreneurs” declined and responded like that was both a completely new term for her and that it was ridiculous. Automatic Win.

Livie & Luca: They bribed me with a pair of handmade shoes, in Erin’s size, along with a hand-written post-card for me, and a 25% discount code for YOU: BLOG25. It could also be BIOG25. It’s hard to tell because the “L” or “1” is just “l” on the card. But the “B” and the “O” are capitalized. Try both. Or maybe that’s not an “o” but a “0”, in which case the code could be BI0G25 or BL0G25, but both of those make less sense than plain BLOG25.

Zooni: Michelle’s company, and makers of handmade children’s mittens and crazy hats. Erin now has monkey mittens. I’m not sure I could bring myself to dress her in one of the hats though. You’d need to be someone who doesn’t wear grey t-shirts every day to bust out the mop hat.

Wati: A clothing company who sent me home with a brown dress for Erin. It almost feels like corduroy, but it isn’t. Which is good because I can’t stand corduroy. My mom used to make me wear corduroy pants when I was a kid and not only would they snag too-easily in my bicycle chain, they also ripped in the crotch on me once and I spent all day at school wearing pants with a big crotch rip and trying to hide in the corner at recess.

Giddy Giddy: Makers of fine handmade baby hair clips. I suppose the hair clip they gave me is for Adrian, since he’s the baby. And it’s never too early to teach kids about the plasticity of gender and cultural norms.

Teeny Tiny Optics: They make toddler sunglasses. They made some red ones for Erin. They’re actually pretty freaking adorable. Yes, I said “adorable” but I also had four hamburgers over the last two days so I think I’m okay: red meat cancels out “adorable”.

The following brands/products were in a big swag bag for the attendees, provided by sponsors who couldn’t send a rep. Not attending in person? Fail. Not attending in person and making me talk to you so you’ll give me something? Win. I call that a wash.

Chevrolet: There was a caribbeaner clip in the bag from Chevy. Yay! Actually, one can never have too many caribbeaner clips. I want to collect enough to build a car out of them. Now, before you think “Hey Chevy, what the hell? You couldn’t come up with something better than a clip for these bloggers?” Just wait. Wait. Chevy was a major sponsor of the event, so I think the salmon dip was on them or something. Also, Chevy is a GM company and GM….well, we’ll get to GM. Just don’t think that Chevy is cheap is what I’m getting at.

Andy Z: There was an “Intro to Andyland” DVD in the bag, and I was kind of pleasantly surprised. He’s a Silicon Valley children’s entertainer. I had never heard of Andy Z until we went to a toddler birthday party last year and he was the entertainment. He’s silly enough for the two-year olds, wordy enough for the four-year olds, and I swear he looks like Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit. He is tatted up. He’s like a punk rock Raffi. But his songs are all tame. I have detected no swearing or beatin’ down on cops or anything. Anyway, we went down to Santana Row a couple of months ago and Andy Z was down there doing a free concert in the square promoting the release of his new DVD. “Good for him,” I thought. He seems to be having success at something he clearly loves doing. And here he is! Giving his DVDs away for free! Either a sign of good marketing or desperation. I’m hoping it’s good marketing.

Adventure Medical Kits: “Women’s Outdoor Medical Kit”. Not a woman. And I don’t really hike.

Tender Corporation: “Easy Care First Aid Kit”, “AfterBite” and “AfterBite: Kids” insect bite treatment, and “Natrapel” insect repellant. Hey! What did I just say about not hiking?

QuikClot: The “battlefield proven” nosebleed clotter. It actually says on the box that these products are given to soldiers in the field. Now that’ll make men out of these kids.

Snapfish: There was a digital print gift card in the bag from Snapfish. I really don’t do that much printing of photos. I’m more the “store everything on the hard drive and wait for the drive to wipe so you lose all of your memories” kind of guy. Who’s with me?

Dillon Rogers: Although not an actual product there was a gift certificate for leather jewelry in the bag. And it is clear from the photos accompanying the gift certificate that Dillon Rogers sells leather jewelry that is worn by FAMOUS PEOPLE!!! Don’t you want to look like famous people????? No. No I don’t.

The Retro Dome: There seems to be a new game in town. Until recently the only place to see movies from the 80’s was on AMC, or Netflix, or your iPod. But now there’s the Retro Dome! I now have two tickets to see “Scrooged” or a “Back to the Future” marathon on a big screen or something else before January. I’m really not sure who this place is meant to cater to: shut-ins who DON’T have cable? I see more than my share of movies; I spend more than your share and my share of money at the movie theater, watching even terrible, terrible movies (I saw “Fred Claus” in a theater and nobody paid me to watch it). I’ve even gone to the Stanford Theater to watch classic movies in a classic theater to get that “old timey” feeling. This place…I just don’t understand this place. I wish them well in their endeavors, and I hope they have a lot of success. But not even the most movie-addicted person around (me) is going to say “Screw TBS! Let’s go pay to watch this someplace 10 miles away!”

Jabra: Have you heard of Jabra? Me neither. But this was, I think, the heaviest thing in the bag. It is a large Bluetooth wireless speakerphone thing for the car that broadcasts your calls through your stereo speakers. I don’t even know what to say about this thing. It’s black, so that’s cool.

Gramp Lyford: My most favourite thing in this bag. Gramp Lyford’s Country Salve for dry, cracked skin. Thanks Gramp Lyford. I like any product that is made by someone claiming to be a Gramp, Grandpa, Grampa, or Grandad. This is clearly the best Country Salve on the market today. Hooray for old coots!

Healthi Feet: I’m over the trademark and marketing necessitations of deliberate cutesy misspellings of words to create brand names. On an unrelated note, there was some foot cream in the bag.

Busy Body: At first I thought someone had just gone down to Target and bought a bunch of notebooks to stuff in the bags. But that would have been weird. Instead, lo and behold, what I thought was a $3 Target notebook was instead an $18 Family Organizer from Busy Body. I’m pretty happy with my current Family Organizer. It’s my laptop. I’m on it right now. I blog with it. Most bloggers, I imagine, blog on their own personal computers. (/subtlety) I’m just saying that it’s weird to give out paper organizing products at an event for people who are primarily non-paper oriented in the spheres in which they seem appealing as marketing connections. That’s my two cents. The Family Organizer is also made in China and you know what that means: you’re going to want to re-organize an hour after you’re done.

Melissa and Doug: A bunch of wooden Melissa and Doug toys were recalled in Canada for elevated barium levels. Or something. But thankfully Melissa & Doug did not stick any in the bag. Instead it was child safety scissors. They look neat.

Coffee Mate: Coffee Mate is owned by Nestle, and as we all know people feel strongly about Nestle. Some people think Nestle is a corporation populated by slick weasels who put profit above safety, especially in their infant formula marketing programs in developing countries. Others think Nestle is evil. But damn me, Coffee Mate is some pretty good creamer and now I have free samples of single shots, some coupons for free creamer, and an apron with “Coffee Mate” written on it. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Universal Studios: I can’t find a place to link, because this mysterious little black DVD case is probably a bootleg. It says “Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas” on it, and I heard someone saying that it was a screener and you couldn’t even buy the movie yet and blah blah blah. All I know is this is exactly what the movies look like when you go shopping in dark alleys in San Francisco.

The rest of the brands discussed below actually had representatives at the party and I spoke to each and every one of them.

Bosch Appliances and Tassimo: The Tassimo rep was talking up the Tassimo one-serving coffee maker. I said I didn’t drink coffee and she said “We have hot chocolate!” and so I had hot chocolate. She gave me a coffee mug with “Tassimo” emblazoned on the side, but crookedly. So, win for hot chocolate upon request; fail for detail. I also don’t need a giant hot chocolate maker because Nestle Quik is kind of chocolatey. So I’ll passimo on the Tassimo.

Marie Veronique Cosmetics: Marie herself was there doing individual skin consultations. I thought that was nice. Enoch and I celebrated how awesome we were for being manly enough to sit down for a skin consultation with a cosmetics expert. She gave out a small bag of skin care products. She also dished out some outrageous flattery like you wouldn’t believe. “Hello there, gorgeous. What could I possibly do for you?” she asked when I sat down. Automatic Win. I then proceeded to ask her about my flaky beard and eyebrow skin and she said something like “If I lick you like this” but I think it was really “folliculitis”. She also said that if you get a blemish on your skin you can dissolve some aspirin in water and rub that on the area. Aspirin! Holy crap! The things I don’t know about skin care…

General Motors: GM was a major sponsor of the event. They allowed some bloggers to test drive cars for a week and did some other stuff. Their PR person was very nice, but I am so utterly baffled by what she put in my hands that I can’t get past it: a Tiffany & Co. silver keyring with a GM charm on it. What. The. Hell. ? . “The PR department had a ton of these left over and didn’t know what to do with them, so I said to give them to me and I’d give them out to bloggers,” said the PR rep. And that’s great and all. But holy crap, it’s not mysterious at all why GM needed the government to bail them out if they are commissioning Tiffany & Co. to produce giveaways for them and they don’t know what to do with them all. On the one hand, it’s easy to bash a big company like GM that went so far under that they needed government assistance; on the other hand, it just seems rude for someone who was essentially a guest at their party to badmouth them after the fact; on the third hand, it just seems like a giant bonehead of a move to spread wealth around conspicuously when you are in a beggared state and could benefit from a reputation for sensible spending. On the fourth hand, since I basically own GM now, as a taxpayer, it feels both self-destructive and un-patriotic to undermine the success of my company in any way. As I said, this one left me baffled. Automatic wha???

Tiny Prints: As I was walking around the party floor I heard someone calling “Shawn! Hey Shawn!” I turned to look and there was a familiar face: Rick, from Tiny Prints. Rick made himself conspicuous at BlogHer by taking a hoard of pictures and uploading them directly to his Twitter stream, providing both great coverage of the event and good PR for Tiny Prints. It didn’t hurt in any way that he is just a truly personable guy, and he pays attention to bloggers. Like Michelle from Zooni, it was clear Rick read the notes on who was coming to the event. He did his homework. The holiday cards I came away from the event with are nice, but swag doesn’t win brand loyalty: people like Rick do. Win.

Olive Smart: Olive Smart sells reusable shopping bags stored in a bullet bag to keep in your car cupholder so you don’t forget them in the car. It’s such a fantastic idea, because I’m always leaving those bags in my trunk and ending up at home with 30 plastic ones. However, I’ve forgotten my Olive Smart bags in the apartment for a month now. Environmentalism fail.

Wicked: The very first table inside the hall was the Wicked table. It had a wheel to spin with little giveaways associated with whatever notch you landed on. Mine landed on a t-shirt. Every attendee, I believe, was also given a couple of weekday tickets to the San Francisco run in January and February. That’s very cool. Of course, Emily and I just saw Wicked in September, and we don’t have a weekday babysitter, and driving up to the City on a weekday is kind of a pain in the ass even if you do get to see Wicked. What I thought was unfortunate, though, was that this table was right next to the door. And because it had the wheel everyone wanted to spin it. So everyone stopped here first, chatted for a second, then spun the wheel and never went back to that part of the room again. By the middle of the evening, after everyone had already arrived and no one new was coming through the door it was just a lonely place to hang out. Sympathy win.

Nintendo: Nintendo had kind of a big presence on the night, with a couple of Wii stations set up and a competition for high score on one of the Wii Fit Plus games (the winner won a console, I think). They also had some DS handhelds around to play with. The gamer in me could have just played video games all night, but I thought I should actually go around and talk to people. The problem with having a Wii Fit station at an event like this, though, is that I don’t know who wants to take their shoes off and then work hard enough to sweat before going off and mingling with other people. I get that they were trying to market their new Wii Fit Plus game and “Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box” for the DS, so that’s the plan even at an event where the attire is a little dressier than the yoga studio. Still, in a room full of strangers I was very uncomfortable with the idea of deliberately looking ridiculous playing some arm-flapping game and then going off to glad-hand. Note everyone felt like I did, though, so the Wii Fit console got some action. I don’t even own a Wii or a DS, so the games they gave me are getting donated somewhere: to some underprivileged kid whose parents can afford a Wii or DS, but not the games.

The party was fun, and I got to meet, and re-meet local bloggers, many of whom I know only through Twitter or blog comments. Carla from Baby Ji Design was there taking pictures for the event, and since I am her part-time model she insisted I pose for ridiculous shots with Enoch, representing the testosterone in the room. Thankfully, I haven’t seen those pictures and no, I don’t know where to find them.

I’m still not sure what my purpose was in going. I was flattered by the invitation from Jill and Linsey (the Silicon Valley Moms Blog Boss Moms), and I was curious about what kind of stuff the companies would be giving away to bloggers. I don’t really do product reviews though, preferring to use products as jumping-off points for content rather than really trying to help you, the reader, navigate the wonderful world of useless crap. I like getting stuff, and the suggestion that I’m special enough to give stuff to, and that I’m interesting enough to want to have around at a party. Whatever I got out of it, though, I hope everyone else got whatever it was they were looking to get out of it.

And that was your Silicon Valley Holiday Gift Guide. Brought to you by, in part, the American taxpayer. Go USA!