January is my Christmas. First the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, now the Outdoor Retailer Show and the 2011 Sundance Film Fest. The sheer amount of booty floating around me is staggering. And I LOVE IT!!! It's like five-star trick or treating. Last year, a giant gift basket of PopChips appeared on my doorstep to welcome me to Sundance. This year, it was a knit scarf and rechargeable handwarmer from Timberland.

Sundance is my only injection of real-world style I get all year. Living in Utah it's mostly fleece and Gore-Tex. But for these ten days I get to see how the beautiful people dress. And I get to take some of the same stuff home with me.

Publicists and PR firms call it "gifting". The act of doling out free stuff, swag, to movie industry elite, publicists, managers and press in the hopes that they'll toast the brand on the red carpet or in the news. It's as much a part of the Sundance Film Festival as the films themselves.

[caption id="attachment_12620" align="alignnone" width="525" caption="A gifting we will go."][/caption]

I'll try to explain how this works. A marketing firm rents an office space, an event venue or a home, then invites their corporate clients to set up stalls where they display their product. Publicists then walk their talent through the "suite" or "lounge" to personally meet with each company. They leave with armloads of free stuff- most of it expensive designer clothes, shoes and skincare products.

[caption id="attachment_12621" align="alignnone" width="473" caption="The Aveeno Oxygen Bar"][/caption]

For example, this year, Samsung has taken over the Town Lift Plaza and turned it into The Samsung Galaxy Tab Lift. Throughout the lower Main Street real estate is, what I'm guessing, the largest gifting and party complex of opening weekend. The "House of SWAGG" will give away brands such as American Apparel, CAVI, Contraband Hats, Crocs, Enjoy Lighting, got2b, Harry & David, I-Renew, lia sophia, popchips, Solstice Sunglass Boutique, Sweetbreath. Under Armour and Wellensteyn; Food & Wine Magazine and Stella Artois will host breakfast, lunch and happy hour for high profile guests, celebrities, and media at the Stella Cafe (The Bridge retaurant); PUMA FaasLab Lounge will showcase a new lightweight running shoe while Sorel, The Lift's official boot brand will also host an outdoor 'experience' and lounge. The SEPHORA BEAUTY STUDIO will be dolling up VIPs and sampling items from their Collection and got2b will launch POWDER'ful - a volumizing styling powder. TAO Night Club (Lindzee O'Michaels) will host daytime lounging and nightly VIP events.

I'm personally looking forward to my brunch on Friday at the CARRERA Sunglasses Escape (Flying Sumo). The sunglass maker is going to share tips on finding the perfect pair of shades and will gift from their new 2011 Spring Collection. The Escape will also be hosting those late night after-parties and dinners for films in the Fest.

Up the street, there's the PlayStation Green Room at the Retreat at Silver at Silver Restaurant on Main where VIPs can test drive the latest games and parties. The Style Lounge, The House of Hype LIVEstyle Lounge on Main Street with gifting from Paul Frank, HB3 Technology, EQ, AMI, Artful Dodger and Rocawear, hosting premiere parties, private dinners, and live performances (OneRepublic is Friday). Studio on Main at the Montgomery Lee Fine Arts Gallery will feature Fred Segal Salon & Spa as well as spray-on tans, Phyto hair and Lierac skincare products, The Painted Nail vegan polish, PattyWax Candles and leather bags from Cape Cod Leather. The SuperDry Experience at Downstairs will be a spot for exclusive music, fashion and entertainment hospitality from the Asian clothing brand for its U.S. debut.

The gifting goes all the way up to Deer Valley. Both the St Regis and the new Montage hotels will have their own lounges. GBK Productions, one of the leading gifting suite production companies, will host their guests this weekend.

Just because Hollywood has come to our hills doesn't mean that the gear has to be all Hollywood. Burton and Oakley will participate with pro riders greeting and gifting festival VIPs with snowsports gear. Some will even get on the slopes of PCMR for exclusive snowboard lessons. I've got my appointment to check into the Timberland Retreat (an OFFICIAL sponsor of the Sundance Film Fest as opposed to many of the companies I just mentioned.) They're showcasing their outdoor footwear and apparel at 625 Main Street (opposite Sundance House Presented by HP, at the Kimball Art Center). Consumers who stop by can participate in daily giveaways. By the way, the companies on this list are the ones who have stepped up to provide funding and support directly to Sundance and the Sundance Institute.

[caption id="attachment_12624" align="alignnone" width="525" caption="Schmoozing with Rachel Hunter"][/caption]

All of this luxury may sound over-the-top excessive but there is logic behind the bling. There's a massive, captive audience dwelling in little Park City for ten days. There's no purer form of direct marketing. The suites are a way for new brands or new products to get exposure and feedback. Diesel, at the Lia Sophia suite at the Lift last year, used Sundance to introduce its "Be Stupid" campaign. A wardrobe stylist saw items at Fred Segal and used the brand in a show. FilterForGood, a campaign to reduce bottled water waste, put itself on the map by handing out free Nalgene bottles so attendees could fill at Brita Hydration Stations located throughout the festival.

So, you see, although it is Swagfest time, it's not all mindless indulgence. The next time you see someone traipsing along Main Street overloaded with branded shopping bags, don't roll your eyes. It's not about them. They're doing those companies a HUGE favor. The recipients are just the innocent bystanders.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!!