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Free Swag!

Discount Club
Shamelessly accepting as many free samples as I can

The current spread of free swag
The current spread of free swag
I’ve started doing something new in my writing career, and perhaps something journalists would frown upon: I’m accepting free swag.
Though some of you may believe that I’m a successful writer, or that I at least make a decent amount of money from this craft, I’ve found myself in positions where I pump out 4-5 articles in a 30 day span and still don’t make enough money to cover my rent — and, not to brag, but my rent in LA is pretty cheap by this city’s standards. Rent control, baby!
Back in the 90’s, I’ve been told that journalists could consistently earn a dollar per word. $4 if you were Carrie Bradshaw. But in 2022, the rates are closer to 50, 33, and even 10 cents. One of my career goals is to earn half my income from writing and the other half from being an artist, and even though writing might make up roughly half the hours I work, it only produces about ~10% of my income. To make up for this injustice, I’ve started to skim through all my PR emails and accept all the free samples I can get.
There was absolutely no way I'd say no to a Petsies sample!
There was absolutely no way I'd say no to a Petsies sample!
So far, this has only resulted in an eerie replica of Flora, provided by Petsies (a $200 value!), pretzel snacks, fruit bars, date jam, and a portrait session (ok, that one was actually an Instagram “contest” that tried to upsell me, but I prevailed.) I almost got to take a press trip to New Orleans to cover a dance competition, but multiple editors told me they won’t publish anything from a press trip. I think that’s pretty ridiculous, because how do you expect a freelancer to foot the bill? How am I expected to drop roughly a thousand dollars out of pocket just to write an article for two hundred bucks?
The only problem with accepting free swag is that I’m feeling guilty. I’m not a food writer and I don’t know where to review Dino Bars, which by the way, don’t taste very good. I love my Uncanny Valley Flora, but I also don’t think I can tell someone to spend a few hundred dollars on a plush version of their dog that has a completely inaccurate and harrowing face (they did an incredible job on matching the rest of her fur, however, and there’s been a few times where I mistook the side of her clone for Flora herself.) I did earnestly want to cover that dance competition, though, and so I must reiterate how mad I am at all those editors who rejected me or ignored my emails.
With no other outlet to write reviews, I’m turning to my newsletter to give proper attention to my free samples. Fewer than 30 people subscribe to Discount Club, and I think maybe only 10 of you (max) read this? But please, consider purchasing these products, and please send me more free things.
These pretzels are very crunchy, a bit harder of a texture that I tend to prefer. I tried the Lemon Pepper flavor first, and thought it too overpowering. But, minutes later, I wanted more. After a few handfuls of OMG! Pretzels, I had adjusted to the intense seasoning, and now I can say I actually like them. I also received the flavors Salty Butterscotch and Garlic. It’s a women-owned business — a mother-daughter team — so you’re also supporting some #girlbosses. If you like pretzels with fun flavors, I gotta genuinely recommend going for OMG! Pretzels
Unfortunately, Dino Bars gets a pass from me. Their branding is inexplicable. I don’t understand what an all-natural fruit bar has to do with dinosaurs, and they use a T-Rex on some of their packaging, which famously was a carnivore. They are wrapped in edible paper, which I’ve consumed, but this smart, organic packaging doesn’t actually make any sense because you still have to rip open a plastic wrapper to get to the bar. The taste itself is a bit bland, though perhaps a stronger flavor would mean added sugar or artificial additives. On the plus side, Dino Bars are gluten and GMO-free. They’re a step up from a Fruit Roll-Up, which was one of my go-to childhood snacks and likely stunted my growth. Try the Mango, Pear, and Banana flavor and see if you like it more than me.
I gotta be honest, I haven’t tried this “datehini” spread yet. I keep buying sourdough bread and jam, thinking that I will become a Jam Person, and then the sourdough just molds away and the jams take up valuable shelf space in my tiny kitchen. That said, I was excited to receive this because I fantasized about being the type of person who would consume it. Then I didn’t. It is supposedly made from just two ingredients, medjool dates and sesame tahini, and I think would be an excellent addition to a charcuterie board. Before I leave for my summer residency, maybe come over with cheese and crackers and load up on this spread.
So this was not actually something I got from a PR person. I got an ad on Instagram about entering a contest for a free portrait with you and your pet. Of course I entered, and then I won the contest. But another friend of mine also won the contest, and when I eventually reached the portrait studio, I saw four other dog owners there, and I suspect that every single person who entered “won” the “contest.” Still, I went all out with this one, because Flora hates having her picture taken and I barely have any photos of the two of us together. I bought an extravagant tulle dress from AliExpress that never arrived, so then I bought another extravagant quinceañera dress from David’s Bridal two days before the shoot. The photographs went well. Flora can be tamed if you dangle enough treats next to a camera.
However, the scam component came in when they showed me the photos. They placed me in a strangely deep room, where I was sitting what felt like 100 feet away from the projection, and so the beautiful photo that filled the space ended up being at least 60 inches wide. When then adjusted the aspect ratio to match the size I won in the contest, a 14 inch frame, such a distance made the image look tiny and underwhelming. If it were an eye exam, even people with 20/20 vision could risk failing. Because I had measured a space on my wall before I went to the shoot, I knew that I could fit a frame up to 24 inches wide, and I was willing to upgrade and shell out some money if it wasn’t more than, I don’t know, a hundred dollars? But the jump from 14 to 20 inches was $1,500 dollars, and the ideal size I wanted to purchase was SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS.
So I got my 14 inch photo, returned my dress to David’s Bridal, and will get my framed portrait in 3 to 5 months without spending a dime.
Here it is, the holy grail of free samples. I was legitimately excited for my Petsies order, which took about two months to arrive. There are no lies or deception with Petsies schtick. If you’re willing to spend 200 dollars or more on a plush clone of your dog, they will ask for tons of photos of your fur baby, and they will do their best to custom-airbrush the stuffed animal so that it looks like your pet. You can choose the pose — sitting, standing, splooting — and give them as much obsessive detail as you want.
This attention to detail led to me being absolutely shocked and disappointed when my mini-Flora arrived and she looked completely wrong. It’s strange, because her fur is amazing. She has a difficult to paint brindle coat, and they truly captured the nuances of her fur changing from dark brown to honey gold. But her face. Oh her face. Flora, though only 4 years old, has some grey around her nose, but they for some reason greyed out her entire face. They also saw that she was a Chow Chow and gave her some Chow-specific eyebrow rolls, but Flora doesn’t actually have those squishy folds on her head, which is evident in her photos. How is my Petsies so accurate and yet so bad? I don’t know. I am glad I got this completely free (including shipping!) and I think they could probably nail some dogs, especially ones that are purebred and have features that more closely match the breed standard. I recommend Petsies at your own risk.
Thank you for reading my product reviews. Please tell everyone you know to send me free stuff!
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Renée Reizman
Renée Reizman @reneereizman

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