Viewpoint: Martin on Retailing: Advertising That Wears Well and Fits to a T

Article excerpt

If customers agreed to wear your logo or advertising message on their shirts, would you take them up on the offer? Well, they will. Just give them a T-shirt. Seems too obvious, doesn't it?

No less an expert on marketing than Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently made pretty funny and telling comments about the amazing popularity of free T-shirts. On his personal blog, he lamented how marketers (including him) "lie to ourselves."

"We want so badly to reinforce what we think we know that we often miss the obvious," he wrote.

Mr. Cuban said that -- in all of the focus groups, consultants' reports, and other research he has used -- nobody ever suggested that fans at events would show their greatest level of excitement for T-shirts. Yet almost without exception, sports crowds' energy and level of engagement are highest when the T-shirt cannons or sling-shots are brought out during a timeout.

His main point was that too many marketers tend to ignore the obvious when it does not fit their preconceived beliefs. I agree. But let's not miss another "obvious finding" from his observations. People really like free T-shirts.

I chuckled when I read his comments because they hit home. Over the last decade, some great banker friends I've worked with all over the country have given me closets full of bank paraphernalia. Without fail it's the shirts that I've hung on to the longest. And as opposed to coffee mugs, ink pens, and calendars, these shirts have seen the light of day quite often.

We are living in a marketing-saturated, technology-driven world. And though a logo or message on a T-shirt is about as low-tech a marketing delivery vehicle as you can get, it remains remarkably effective.

Admit it. You've recently found yourself tilting your head or straining your eyes to read somebody's T-shirt in a grocery store, gym, shopping mall, or bank branch. Maybe it's because we've learned to expect funny or motivating statements on these shirts. But whatever the reason, we not only look, we analyze.

One thing I particularly like about "shirt marketing" is that it creates word-of-mouth advertising without having to speak words. When we see someone wearing a company's logo, message, or even Web site address, we tend to subconsciously consider that an endorsement. Uber-marketers like Nike, Adidas, and Reebok have also helped condition us to notice which "markers" and logos folks choose in order to personally brand themselves.

During brainstorming sessions with bank marketing folks in the past, I've occasionally suggested adding regular T-shirt promotions to their marketing mix. …