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No shirt, Sherlock: why the branded tee is marketing’s most effective method

Saxon Wyatt

Even as we embrace this device-connected, data-centric landscape – where you can metric the life out of your ad spend ROI even before you’ve briefed the creative team and your fridge can warn you when you’ve scoffed too much Ben & Jerry’s – there’s one mobile billboard that no algorithm can measure: your fans walking around in your branded T-shirts.

It might not be a new thought and, sure, there’s an exciting buzz created by augmented reality, virtual reality, Pokémon and an army of vlogging YouTubers. But the fact remains that there are few lasting advertising formats as easy and effective as a branded tee in driving advocacy. Some branded tees even pre-date that “interwebs” thingy and others, I hesitate to predict, will out-wear Facebook. Most are more memorable than a Snapchat share and almost all deliver more cut-through than display ads, a 30-second TV spot or even that environmentally unfriendly newspaper your grandfather still reads every weekend.

To prove this point, walk down any high street and count how many chests are inked with brands like Nike, Red Bull, Ramones and Star Wars. Even if most of the Nike crowd is athletically challenged and the crew sporting Ramones tees probably couldn’t name Joey, Jim, Jackson and Tito as band members, these people are still repping brands everywhere they go. A T-shirt is as global as the person wearing it, reaching places even the savviest media buyer can’t, like the workplace or your mate’s backyard barbecue. You prance around in your timeworn tee like a peacock, displaying your personal endorsement of what you see as 2k16 cool – and your squad snaps and shares beautifully filtered moments of you wearing Brand X to an infinite legion of content-hungry Insta fans for FREE. It’s a content manager's dream – hell, it’s every brand managers’ wet T-shirt dream.

Clever brands are already on the tee carousel. Imagine hitting up an Apple store today and not seeing “Applets” (that’s the Apple customer service team) cloaked in bright and branded Apple tees. There’s no way you would find the Genius bar without this human GPS. Frozen iPhone forever. Press CTRL-Z and go home.

And as the lifestyle and wellness industry drenches us in the need to sweat, Lorna Jane, Under Armor and other fitness brands cultivate our workout glow in tees with rallying cries like “Chocolate makes me run faster”, “When in doubt, workout” and “Blood, sweat, respect”. These are maxims that will live on, well after the fitness fad has hopefully faded.

After all, visceral eye-candy is better clickbait than the spoken word and there is no band, celebrity, movie, motto, symbol, social issue or endangered animal immune to being immortalised on a tee and worn by the masses and kool kids alike today and beyond.

So as we sprint towards the fourth industrial revolution, do yourself and your clients a favour: consider an old classic as part of your next brand engagement crusade.

Saxon Wyatt – Brand engagement specialist, T-shirt aficionado and chief instigator of SAXTEES.