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Swag’s no longer in the bag at kudofests

Gift lounges have gone from being a luxury to a requirement

During kudos season, the competition for awards is pretty heated. But the jockeying behind the scenes over swag has become positively bruising, with pricey gift lounges now de rigeur to entice celebs.

“It has gotten to the point where celebrities expect swag, and the young ones show up because of it,” says one seasoned publicist.

Even the Critics’ Choice Awards has entered the fray.

Presenters and recipients who once had little more than a rubber chicken dinner to look forward to will now be able to pick out $20,000 worth of loot from the backstage gift lounge at the Jan. 9 kudocast. Goodies include the Palm Treo smartphone, jewelry, clothing, Lasik surgery and a one-year membership at Crunch Fitness.

While both the Oscars and Golden Globes are sticking with their high-end gift bags (the Oscars won’t even consider individual products unless they’re worth at least $500 and haven’t showed up in any other award show booty), it seems but a matter of time before they go the lounge route, a growing biz where sponsors salivate at the chance that the likes of Lindsay Lohan will be photographed in Us Weekly with freebie sunglasses, shoes or a handbag.

While some big stars abstain from the swag trough, most stars belly up — despite the appearance of gluttony.

“It can be a bit embarrassing,” says the veteran publicist. “With these lounges and gift bags, you might score big if a star wears the watch, but you’re screwed if their housekeeper uses it to tell time.”

While the Lasik doc will be the only one truly sure that celebs use his gift, Critics’ Choice lounge coordinator Samantha Haft says lounges vastly improve the odds that swag stays with the stars.

“Giving a sponsor the chance to personally introduce a product to a celebrity is much different than handing someone a gift bag,” says Haft, whose On 3 Productions matches sponsors and events such as the Spirit Awards, the Tony Awards and the Super Bowl.

Haft says kudos organizers like gift lounges because presenters and awards recipients aren’t being paid, and there are enough of what she called “from lounge to stage” wearing of product for sponsors to feel like they’re getting value for their giveaways.

Today, the $20,000 awards show haul isn’t that uncommon — even the Spirit Awards has featured such lavish gifts as a three-month loan of a new Vespa motorscooter.

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