Tastemakers Lounge Gift Bag

A behind-the-scenes look the gifting lounges at TIFF

We have all heard about these mysterious lounges that pop up during film festivals where celebrities walk in and then walk out with armfuls of free stuff. This year I was able to get a first hand look at what the public doesn't get to see. I received an invite to the Tastemakers Lounge.

It was started in 2005 and it's a product placement company which specializes in gifting lounges and swag bags. Other events they do include the Genies, Gemini Awards and corporate funding events.

I walked up to the Intercontinental and there was a crowd of people standing around, cameras in hand. The celebrity stalkers and paparazzi, I thought to myself - how annoying. I don't understand why anyone not getting paid would hang outside this hotel for hours on end, just to get a glimpse of someone famous.

Tastemakers Lounge - Ministry of the Interior $5000 dollar wall

The lounge was on the 2nd floor and it was one of several other TIFF lounges set up. This year the theme was "Ohhh Canada!" and was executed with the help of Ministry of the Interior and Pink Twig Floral Boutique. Jason MacIsaac, owner and founder of Ministry of the Interior did the decor for the lounge and selected some special pieces of furniture to fit the Canadian theme. The highlight of the lounge was what I call "the $5000 dollar wall" - it was covered in very expensive and very beautiful velvet wallpaper worth five grand. The Bay had their iconic blankets that pretty much removed any doubt about the theme. Celebrities were provided with gift bags that included products from Canadian companies. Basically, I made my way through the room and talked to the different reps.

Tastemakers Lounge AG Hair Cosmetics crew

The Joe Fresh rep talked about sending packages of kid's clothes to the celebrities. Hollywood is baby crazy and buying the kids off is a good idea if they want to be remembered. Joe Fresh always amazes me with their prices and a lot of the Fall 2008 collection is quite cute. I had an interesting conversation with the Burt's Bees rep. We talked about their new owners, Clorox, and how the change will affect the company. I'm told that Clorox is looking to make the company even greener. That sounds like a really good thing. I learned that AG Hair Cosmetics is the largest manufacturer of salon hair-care products in Canada. They are also doing celebrities hair throughout the festival.

My second experience, at the Smashbox gifting lounge, was a true peek into what happens from the celebrity side. I happened to be part a group that included some popular Canadian actresses. We were all treated like VIPs and I can't count how many photos were taken that night.

We walked into a trailer that was situated outside of Ultra, on Queen Street. Space was a premium in the trailer, but everyone was in a great mood, with good reason. Representatives from each company explained the products to individuals at different stations in the trailer and then it was a free for all. Things were dropped into swag bags like mad; cosmetics, jewelry, skin care, hair care, clothing and perfume. At first I was a little apprehensive about talking things. I'm not a celebrity, so what do they expect in return? I've received swag before, but not on this magnitude. This happens daily for celebrities during festivals and frequently during the year.

Smashbox Gifting Lounge

This is a truly surreal experience, I thought, as I looked around at everyone in the trailer. What happens to your sense of entitlement when you look at someone who is throwing free stuff at you? As we left the lounge, one group started running in her sky high heels, yelling "Get the car! Get the car!" That pretty much summed up my feeling about the matter.

One thing that has been on my mind after both experiences is how these companies measure the benefits to their bottom line from these ventures. Do these gifting lounges translate into more sales afterwards? How is it measured? Where do all those photos go? The power of celebrity endorsement is interesting, especially to someone who doesn't look to them when deciding the value of things.

So what do the celebrities do with all this stuff? Your guess is a good as mine. I'm sure a lot is given to friends and family. That's what I tend to do with things I've been given. However, this year a friend is organizing a swag party, where attendees bring the swag they've accumulated for over the year and it will be donated to a women's shelter.

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