TORONTO — Alongside the movies, the red carpets and the press conferences at the Toronto International Film Festival there are the gifting lounges — suites where celebrities sample an array of products and take a few home for themselves. The exercise, showering the rich and famous with treats, may seem unnecessary to some, but for the Canadian businesses at the lounges, the venues can be a marketing bonanza. "It's an opportunity for me to be able to showcase my brand on a global stage," said Lisa Mattam, founder of Toronto-based skin care line Sahajan, whose products only hit the market two weeks ago. "It provides the opportunity to have celebrities interact with and hopefully fall in love with your brand." Mattam, whose participation in the Tastemakers Lounge is her first such experience, said a celebrity leaving with a gift bag containing her products may translate into a shout-out on social media, which can make "a significant difference." The company's Facebook page now features snapshots of Tom Hardy, "Property Brothers" stars Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott, and "Corner Gas" star Tara Spencer-Nairn posing alongside Mattam's booth. The impact a celebrity can have on a product's image can't be understated, added Nick Sutcliffe, whose Caledon, Ont., company brews a cider called Pommies. "We're a relatively young company, we don't have the backing of millions of dollars, we're family-owned" he said. "If we got the exposure of let's say Ethan Hawke that likes our cider, it would be a game changer." Those who put together the lounges emphasize that the venues are about far more than "swag" for the stars. "You really have to understand the platform that you have at your availability here," said Leesa Butler, co-founder of the Tastemakers Lounge, presented by Rock-it Promotions. "All eyes are on Toronto at this time. Here's an opportunity to really leverage the awareness." The lounges are also looking to ensure they give celebrities a boost, said Natasha Koifman, president of NKPR, which puts on the IT Lounge, a venue which attracted the likes of Natalie Portman and Naomi Watts so far this year. "We want to genuinely connect the brand with the celebrity, but also we want them to love it, we want them to have a good time," she said, adding that at times, a lounge experience could lead to an enduring relationship between a star and a product. Actress Abigail Spencer fell in love with a product from British Columbia-based Sage Natural Wellness and went on to list it amongst her favourite things in a magazine. "It's the kind of publicity you really can't buy."
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