NEW YORK CITY - The coronavirus has forced Hollywood to do without most of its favorite rituals, including red-carpet premieres and see-and-be-seen power lunches. On Sunday, the 93rd Academy Awards will be scaled back, with few people allowed to attend in person and the lavish after-party scrapped.
But there is one beloved Tinseltown tradition that will not be repressed: the gift bag.
It will take more than a pandemic — or an escalating homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, or a nation in the throes of a social justice revolution — to keep celebrities from laying their rightful claim to free liposuction, designer skin creams, gold-plated cannabis vaporizers, “affirmation candles,” vegan bubble bath and IV vitamin infusions. (Just text a number, day or night, and a nurse will appear at your home or office to tap a vein.)
All of these items and many, many, many more will be offered to Oscar contenders like Viola Davis, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Leslie Odom Jr. in the run-up to Sunday’s ceremony. Distinctive Assets, an entertainment marketing firm, is offering a gift bag worth about $205,000 to the 25 acting and directing nominees. Another player in Hollywood’s giveaway economy, GBK Brand Bar, is offering freebies worth $60,000.
“It should give all our nominees some good vibes and the hope of a return to normalcy soon,” said Nathalie Dubois, chief executive of DPA Group, a gifting operation that has vacations at Le Taha’a Island Resort in French Polynesia to give away, among other luxuries.
In return, a tweet or Instagram post about each gift would be appreciated. “Everybody has been suffering the past year,” Ms. Dubois wrote in a letter to nominees. “Some of these companies are really looking to gift you their products and getting some promotion.”
She makes a fair point: It’s easy to snarkily write off celebrity swag as ludicrous (guilty!), but the practice exists for a reason.
“Anyone who scoffs should sign up for a marketing class,” said Lash Fary, the founder of Distinctive Assets. “Celebrities are the best brand ambassadors in the world, and this is a win-win for everybody.” He added: “Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t need to be paid $20 million for a movie role, but that is the value the marketplace has given her. It’s the same with gifting.”
Mr. Fary said all items in his gift bags came from companies that “embrace diversity, inclusion, health and philanthropy.” This year, one of his more modest giveaways, for instance, is a device that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals bills as an “emergency hammer” that passers-by can use to break a car window if they spot a dog sweltering inside.
Nominees can decline the booty, of course. And items aren’t totally free: The I.R.S. considers gift bags income, with the last crackdown in 2006.