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Fashion Sense

There’s one nearly surefire way to get more exposure for your brand: Use logoed apparel. These seven companies are doing so – and getting great results. Here’s how their tactics can work for you.

The story is told of a documentary film crew on an expedition deep in the Amazon jungle, searching for one of those forgotten tribes that has never had contact with the modern world. The crew cuts through the thick jungle with machetes and risks life and limb to cross streams full of crocodiles, and when they finally make contact with someone from this lost tribe, guess what? He’s wearing a T-shirt that says, “Pepsi Cola.”

We can’t exactly vouch for that story, but one thing we do know is true: Apparel has few competitors as a branding tool. “It’s fascinating what you can do with clothing,” says Andy Sernovitz, cofounder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and author of the new book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. “There are certain employees who will tell the world what a great business you are,” he says. “They’re the ones wearing the company shirt on weekends. Or you can take the most jaded teenager who would never be caught dead marketing for ‘the man,’ and they will pay you cash to wear your brand. When a customer loves the product, and loves the brand, they want to tell others. By not making apparel available, you deny them that opportunity.”

Want proof as to the power of branded apparel? The seven companies and organizations below all are using clothing in vastly different ways to leverage their brands – and are having great success. Read on to find out how they’re doing it.

Case Study #1

Serving Up Coffee – and Tees

Convenience store-chain Sheetz Inc. has one of the most progressive uniform programs in all of retailing, let alone the convenience-store industry. Associates love wearing the chain’s fashionable, colorful blended polos, while managers look professional in red and black oxford shirts, and food service personnel wear chef coats and black aprons.

But variety is the spice of life, and when Sheetz rolls out new products, it often invests in new apparel items that serve two purposes – they promote the new items, and give employees another option for their wardrobe.

For example, when the Altoona, PA-based chain began rolling out its full-service espresso bars, branded Sheetz Bros. Coffee, it provided high-quality T-shirts for employees in that area. The shirts were imprinted with the Sheetz Bros. Coffee logo on the front, and “anatomy of a latte” on the back.

Sheetz took the same approach when it launched a price promotion in its Made To Order in-store delis. For that promotion, the chain created “The Sheetz Girls” – Miss Mustard, Miss Ketchup and Miss Relish, whose images adorned appropriately colored T-shirts with the chain’s “Fresh Food Made to Order” tag line. “We loved them because they were retro, and we were advertising retro price points on our food service menu,” says Tammy Dunkley, director of corporate advertising for the 320-store chain. The shirts were so popular that in addition to giving them to employees to help promote the offer, Sheetz also sold them in stores. “The T-shirts are one of the little extra things you can do to break up the monotony of the uniform,” she says. “Our employees love it.”

Case Study #2

Everybody Loves a Party

It’s not every day that you turn 150 years old, so when the City of Anaheim approached that milestone this year, it decided to throw itself a 15-month party starting on October 5, 2006 – the city’s 149th birthday. Planners selected the theme, “Always Fresh & Never Grows Old,” and lined up dozens of free events and entertainment to appeal to residents, businesses and visitors.

One goal of the celebration was to raise the profile of Anaheim’s sesquicentennial in the Southern California media market, the second-largest Designated Market Area in the country. Branded apparel seemed like a natural way to help accomplish that goal, so the city initially created polo shirts for staff to wear while they were working Anaheim 150 events. “Staffers were constantly asked if the shirts could be purchased,” says John Nicoletti, Anaheim’s external affairs manager.

The demand only increased with the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade. Anaheim entered its anniversary-themed float in the parade, but there was just one problem: Lots of cities and companies have interesting floats in the parade. How could Anaheim make its float stand out?

“Our solution was to make our float decoration the news story, with branded and bright apparel as our hook,” says Nicoletti. “We invited kids up from the Anaheim Boys & Girls Club, dressed them in bright orange T-shirts with the Anaheim 150 float theme and invited media to one of our decorating days on December 27. The shirts provided a great visual.” The result: front page stories with photos on the local section of the Orange County Register and front page of the Anaheim Bulletin, and broadcast coverage on most of the local TV and radio stations.

The shirts became so popular that city officials made them available for purchase on the city’s Web site. “We found that branded apparel helped us extend our brand reach, as the people who wear it become walking advertisements,” Nicoletti says. “It also made our brand credible and showed true support of our Anaheim 150 celebration.”

Case Study #3

Retro Rules for Holiday Inn

The world’s most recognized hotel brand is counting on that fashion consciousness to help it reach out to a new generation of travelers who may not appreciate its status as a national icon. Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts recently announced the introduction of a line of vintage T-shirts inspired by the chain’s heritage, with initial designs featuring slogans and imagery associated with the brand, such as the Holiday Inn sign and the tagline “Your Host from Coast to Coast.” The shirts also tap into hotel lingo with catchphrases like “Sleep with the Best” and “Do Not Disturb.”

But clever double entendres and retro designs, by themselves, probably aren’t enough to attract the 20- and 30-somethings Holiday Inn needs to reach out to. That’s why the chain turned to Junk Food Clothing to design and distribute the shirts.

Not even a decade old itself, Junk Food has quickly achieved iconic status of its own with a broad line of retro tees incorporating pop culture and nostalgic brands in soft, formfitting styles. Their shirts became an instant hit with celebrities like Kate Beckinsale, Kelly Clarkson, Ashton Kutcher and Eva Longoria, and it wasn’t long before they were featured in virtually every fashion and tabloid magazine in America.

“For generations, the T-shirt has stood for comfort, relaxation and self-expression among consumers,” says Natalie Grof, CEO of Junk Food Clothing. “Even more so, vintage T-shirts instill a sense of personal style and customization. From images of rock bands to corporate logos, vintage tees represent a unique generational response to nostalgic brands that continue to be relevant.”

In addition to being sold at junkfoodclothing.com, the Holiday Inn shirts will be available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Macy’s.

“Holiday Inn is one of few brands with a legacy that evokes such a strong emotional connection with consumers,” says Mark Snyder, senior vice president, brand management, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts. “The vintage tees are a way for us to take our current guests down ‘memory lane’ while introducing the brand to younger generations in a fun and engaging way. The T-shirts pay tribute to our brand’s rich heritage, but with a wink and a smile that shows we are continuing to evolve for today’s travelers.”

Case Study #4

Apparel Behind Olympic Push

When it launched its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the city of Chicago did so in style – with a long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with the Chicago 2016 “Stir the Soul” slogan and the logo of a skyline-shaped flame perched above a green and blue torch handle. The shirts were available exclusively at Macy’s, which printed 2,016 of the stylish shirts and retailed them for $30 each. The Chicago 2016 Committee received $4.50 for every shirt purchased. The shirts sold out in just a few days.

Chicago is competing with Los Angeles for the right to represent the U.S. before the International Olympic Committee, which makes its final decision on an Olympic venue in 2009. The debut of the shirts was timed to coincide with the arrival of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which spent the week evaluating the city’s bid and visiting event locations. The USOC was to announce its choice on April 14.

The merchandising program was not intended as a revenue generator but as a means to create buzz around the Olympic bid. “It’s really an opportunity for the average Chicagoan to make a contribution,” says a Chicago 2016 spokesman. “Hopefully we?ll be selling the shirts past April 14.”

The apparel was part of a broader marketing effort that included ads for the games featuring life-sized posters of divers and gymnasts in action. The ads were featured at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as well as on city buses, bus shelters, taxicab toppers and newspaper racks. Chicago 2016 and Macy’s officials said the initial shirt sales were successful enough to encourage them to follow up with hats, pins and possibly another T-shirt style.

Case Study #5

Shirts Help Company Regain its Pride

When Denver-based Qwest Communications got a new CEO in 2002, he encouraged employees to wear apparel bearing the company’s logo. But many employees were ashamed to be seen in Qwest gear, thanks to the high-profile accounting and insider trading scandals the company had endured over the previous two years. On one of his first major speeches to stockholders, however, CEO Richard C. Notebaert wore a shirt with the Qwest logo. Employees took notice, and they appreciated the new boss’s message: Everything that had happened in the past to put the company in its current position was history; it was forgotten. “His employees liked what he had to say, and Qwest now has a company store that sells logoed apparel from soup to nuts and does $1 million in business,” says Mark Goldwater, sales and marketing manager for Sierra Pacific Apparel. “They are now proud to wear that brand. They’re wearing it on the golf course, when they do their errands, after hours – they’re a walking billboard for the company. That kind of branding, especially on a better shirt, is giving a different impression than printing on a T-shirt.”

Case Study #6

Taking Brand Extension to New Levels

It was almost a decade ago when Kathy Dempsey was working in a Chattanooga health care facility that a friend who was really into reptiles confided to her that his pet lizard had died. When she inquired as to the cause of death, her friend informed her that lizards will often die if they don’t shed their skin.

For Dempsey, the parallel between humans and her friend?s lizard was a “hallelujah” moment that crystallized a line of thinking she had been pursuing personally for years: If we don’t continue to grow – emotionally, mentally and spiritually – then we will “die” too. Dempsey ultimately was able to harness those thoughts in the form of a book, Shed or You’re Dead: 31 Unconventional Strategies for Growth and Change, and soon after she launched a Web site (www.keepshedding.com) and a new career as a speaker, trainer and consultant.

“The whole concept of shedding is now branded,” Dempsey says. “I always wear green and black, and I always wear lizard earrings, or a necklace. I have jeans and tops with lizards on them. I’m very branded in my clothes – it’s my uniform.” She even branded a “pet” lizard, Lenny, to help communicate her message, and he travels with her to every speaking engagement. “People will walk up to me in airports and say, ‘You have a lizard on your shoulder.’ I sell books and book speaking engagements just because of what I’m wearing,” Dempsey says. “It’s a powerful marketing tool.”

The idea has worked so well for her that Dempsey encourages others to brand themselves, too. “I tell people to wear your label outside your clothes,” she says. “Wear something that’s going to brand you.”

Case Study #7

Instant Gratification Sells

SureCruise.com bills itself as “the Internet’s Cruise Superstore,” and it has been experimenting with a promotion in which free T-shirts are awarded to customers when they book a cruise through the site. The T-shirts are printed with fun sayings like, “Don’t make me turn this ship around!” and “Cruise Triathlete: Eat. Drink. Shop.” The T-shirts are sent to guests prior to the cruise, so that the apparel can be worn throughout the trip. They also are for sale on the SureCruise.com Web site.

“The sayings on the shirts prove to be great conversation starters, and a great way to subtly promote the SureCruise.com brand in the perfect atmosphere – an audience of frequent cruisers,” says Evan Eggers, cofounder and president of SureCruise.com. “What I like about apparel is that it immediately ties into what we’re promoting.”

The experiment has been so successful that Eggers is building a new online store to accommodate a dramatically expanded lineup of apparel promotions and sales. He also expects that Spreadshirt’s technology will allow SureCruise.com to offer exciting new customization options as well. “Let’s say a family decides to cruise together, or maybe even hold a family reunion on the cruise,” says Eggers. “They could select a design and have a custom shirt for each member of the family. They would have the shirts to wear on the cruise, and to remember the vacation by for years to come.”

By Jay Gordon. Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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