The High Jinks of Oscars Gift Baggery

Oscars gift bags included a vaporizer and sex toy.

Cannabis terpenes were among the products given away at Celebrity Connected, a gifting suite honoring the Oscars (Photo by Tanja M. Laden)

Every year during so-called awards season, scores of budding brands get together to hand out products to famous people in exchange for the chance to say "so and so 'has' a product." One such event was Saturday's Celebrity Connected at Hollywood's Taglyan Complex. Though technically unaffiliated with the Oscars, the gifting bonanza invited a broad range of media as well as 150 celebrities to be "gifted" things such as skin-care regimens, coloring books, handmade jewelry, candy, knitting supplies, cold-brewed coffee, custom shoes, and beauty products for beards.

Meanwhile, another swag bag produced by Distinctive Assets doled out $200,000 worth of unsanctioned "Everyone Wins" gift bags to losing Oscars nominees. But this year, the weird wild-west world of celebrity gifting appeared to reach a fever pitch, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences demanding a jury trial in a complaint against Distinctive Assets "for trademark infringement, false advertising, and trademark dilution” for the practice of gift-giving in the name of the Oscars.

Champagne flows freely at Celebrity Connected (Photo by Tanja M. Laden)

At Celebrity Connected, it was obvious that hardly any of us filling our bags with shit were actually nominated for any awards, let alone an Oscar. We were all just there to smile and take pictures with small-business owners from across the country who were overjoyed to get any kind of recognition at all, with hopes that we would help spread the word about their brands. This, in essence, is the purpose of awards-show gifting: for companies to score top-down exposure around a highly publicized event.

The same is true with Distinctive Assets' lavish gift bag. The LA-based marketing company has produced the official Grammy gifting lounge for the past 15-plus years, but when it comes to the Oscars, it’s always careful to tout the six-figure gift bag as an unofficial consolation prize for Oscars losers. 

In its press releases, the company describes the goody bag as "independently produced for over a decade by the founders of swag at Distinctive Assets with no official affiliation with the Academy." Nonetheless, the Academy isn't happy that this year, the gift bags include items such as vaporizers and remote-controlled sex toys. So it's bringing the issue to court, going so far as to call the bags in question "infringing bags."

Interns carrying gift bags for celebrity and media attendees at Celebrity Connected (Photo by Tanja M. Laden)

The complaint reads: "Distinctive Assets’ continued use of the Academy’s trademarks not only infringes the Academy’s trademarks, but it is also likely to dilute the distinctiveness of the Academy’s famous trademarks and tarnish their goodwill. Press about the 2016 gift bags has focused on both the less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products contained in the bags, which purportedly include a $250 marijuana vaporizer, a $1,900 'vampire breast lift,' skin treatments by Park Avenue plastic surgeons valued at more than $5,500, a $250 sex toy, and $275 Swiss-made toilet paper, and the unseemliness of giving such high value gifts, including trips costing tens of thousands of dollars, to an elite group of celebrities."

Founder of Distinctive Assets, Lash Fary tells The Kind, "I have never claimed to be any more officially endorsed by the Academy than the designers giving their gowns and jewels to the nominees on the Oscar red carpet. Unfortunately, some headlines made an inaccurate association that in turn prompted the Academy to file a complaint in order to distance themselves from my independent gift bags and apparently my personal taste in gifts. We all give gifts from our own worldview, and in my world people have sex, use vaporizers, and see plastic surgeons for beauty treatments — none of which seem odd or 'unwholesome' to me. Certainly no more unwholesome than Oscar-winning movies like Monster, Monster’s Ball, Silence of Lambs, The Accused, The Godfather, or The Last King of Scotland."

Jiff the Dog (Photo by Tanja M. Laden)

Still, the Academy argues that Distinctive Assets uses the Oscar trademark to promote the "infringing bags." But Celebrity Connected also used the Oscars image, giving out chocolate statuettes and other products emblazoned with the Oscars figurine while somehow avoiding litigation. Also, the products at Celebrity Connected were not any more or less unseemly from the kind of stuff in the Distinctive Assets “infringing bags,” though in most instances, they were much less expensive. For example, at Celebrity Connected, a company was giving away $100 vials of cannabis terpenes, while another had bedsheets for "sweaty sleepers." So why is the Academy targeting Distinctive Assets and not others using the Oscars as a reason to give away free shit? Best guess: this year, Distinctive Assets is gifting a sex toy.

Karen Long is President & CEO of Nuelle, Inc., maker of Fiera Arouser for Her, one of the items in the "infringing bags." She said in a statement: "To be crystal clear, Fiera is no more a 'sex toy' than Pretty Woman was a film about sex. Fiera is a health and wellness product created by health professionals. It was designed to help the tens of millions of women who are concerned about their level of interest in sex ... Nonetheless, Fiera was called out and labeled 'less-than-wholesome' by the Academy."

The controversial $250 remote-controlled “arouser” included in the unofficial Oscars gift bag (Photo courtesy Nuelle, Inc.)

53-year-old Long continued to point out that sex in award-winning films is considered "art," yet real discussions about sexuality are considered shameful by the Academy. She maintained that the institution's attitude towards the product indicates that women "don't matter," even though she and others are working hard to foster a dialog about sexuality. "An estimated 43% of American women, like me, would like to be informed, educated, and offered solutions that provide the opportunity for greater physical intimacy with our partners and the associated quality of life improvement," she explained. "So, thank you Academy for at least calling to our attention the fact we need to talk about sex."

Wink Martindale doesn’t care that unofficial Oscars gift bags have sex-toys and vaporizers inside (Photo by Tanja M. Laden)

Back at Celebrity Connected, I thought it would be a good idea to smoke some weed and interview celebrities about the Academy's recent complaint concerning marijuana vaporizers and sex toys. (I was wrong: add gifting suites to the list of places where you shouldn't go high.) As an intern followed me around carrying a laminated placard with my name and a list of my outlets, vendors continuously stuffed swag into my bags that she insisted on carrying. Though happy at the prospect of free shampoo, I tried to focus on the real reason I was there: to find someone famous enough to interview about the Academy's sexy-toy brouhaha. Unfortunately, the only celebrities I encountered were Jiff the dog, who doesn’t give interviews, and Wink Martindale of Tic Tac Dough. Martindale proceeded to scare the shit out of me in order to yell at his poor wife, who indicated someone wanted to pose for a picture with him. Then he turned back to me, and I asked what he thought about the fact that the Academy wasn’t happy nominees were getting sex toys and vaporizers as gifts. He responded flatly, "I don't really have anything to say about that."

Then he moved on to fill his own gift bag with swag.