The T-Shirt Theory of Branding

Michael Jordan

If you stop and think about how odd it is that we as consumers willingly buy t-shirts (and other clothing) with corporate logos on them, it should sound a bit absurd.

Consumers pay money (often a lot of money) to be walking advertisements, why?

The reason is brand. What is brand? In short, marketing is what you say to your customers, whereas branding is what your customers say about you. In a simplistic word, branding is all about your reputation, or values.

As part of being a complex human, you want to establish your personal identity. Equally as important, you want others to know your identity. So when you where a shirt with a logo on the chest, it sends a signal to the world, “Hello world, this is who I am, this is what I’m into, this is what I support.” It’s a shorthand way of saying, my values are aligned with this thing (brand, artist, team, etc.). In essence, the t-shirt does the talking for you.

This can be incredibly useful in many circumstances. In most societies, it’s generally impolite to talk about how much money you have. But wearing a designer name can send that message for you, provided it is a well-known brand, the branding is visible, and it is known to be expensive.

Wearing a jersey or a shirt with your favourite sports team emblem can allow you to find likeminded people in your tribe whether at a sporting event, the office, or out in public.

Wearing a John Deere hat says something about you. Wearing a Metallica shirt says something about you. As does wearing Patagonia, Nike, Supreme, Harley Davidson, Gibson Guitars, or even a Batman emblem.

All of these are examples of well-established brands who have a reputation or established values.

Consumers of these brands don’t need to see an ad to buy Nike, they seek out Nike. They don’t need to be constantly reminded of Batman, they are already super fans.

Your goal with your business is to:

  • Identify / establish what are your brand values – i.e. when someone where’s your logo on their shirt, what message does that send to the world?
  • Find other people who share those values.

If it’s not obvious to the world what are your brand values, or no one would ever buy a t-shirt from you, then you have a brand problem.

Continue reading: Signs You May Have a Brand Problem

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