Advertising Customer relationships Marketing planning Public Relations Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

T-shirts that talk. Or not.

Creative Commons License photo credit: *Zara

I love surprises (good ones at least).

This week a vendor surprised me with a tshirt in the mail, something that happens on a regular basis.

Oddly enough, they almost never ask what size to send, assuming that an adult medium is the best choice. It isn’t. Doesn’t fit my son either, he’s a swimmer. My wife doesn’t wear t-shirts.

The net result of that decision is that the shirts go to one of two places: to my wife’s 6th grade class to live their life as a paint shirt, or directly to the local used clothing exchange.

Not a big deal, but if you think about how much these businesses spend to purchase, print on and mail these shirts out, you’d think they would want the recipient to wear them.

Why? In most cases, these companies are courting early adopters – what Malcolm Gladwell would call influencers.

They hope that (among other things) influencers and/or product champions will wear them and generate conversation about the product/company mentioned on the shirt. Word of mouth marketing is at least part of what they’re looking for.

If the shirt discussion goes viral, all the better.

On the other hand, if the shirt isn’t the right size, you just poured money down the drain, rather than accomplishing the desired effect.

Or is it a big deal?

One vendor,, actually emailed to ask what size shirt to send. That shirt got worn. I couldn’t tell you if it had any impact on their business, but I can tell you that it didn’t end up as a paint shirt for my wife’s 6th grade class.

This week’s shirt came with a card to explain the cryptic writing on the front. The symbols are very small, in fact from 50-100 ft away, some might think it is a plain black shirt. Without the card, I would have had no idea what the shirt was about.

Let me repeat that – you want to garner attention and you send a shirt that looks plain from a distance. Even if you are close, the shirt requires a *card* to help you remember what the hieroglyphics on the front actually mean.

Before you spend $15000 to send 1000 shirts out into your community, think about the minimum goals of this investment.

Goal #1: you want them to wear the shirt.

Goal #2: you want others to have some sort of clue what the shirt is about.

Kinda simple.

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