• September 1, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The CEO's New Clothes

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Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, September’s Chief Fashion Officer:

After writing July's column on corporate bribery (the laugh riot "What Have You Done for Me Lately?") and August's on the nature of corporate name-branding ("Capital Ideas"), I realized I needed to make an important counterpoint: corporate clotheshorses.

Not long ago, I received a spamvitation (an invitation to an event, but sent to far more people than could possibly attend, or even be remotely interested) to the Imprinted Sportswear Show 2007. The pitch? "Imprinted sportswear and promotional apparel are critical for your sales and marketing activities." Not just marketing activities, mind you--my marketing activities. The statistic they used to drive this home is that, according to a 2005 study, 76 percent of respondents were able to recall the advertising brand on the promotional apparel product given to them after one year.

First of all, the survey quote doesn't exactly sing to me. Only 76 percent of people remember a company logo gaudily emblazoned on a baseball cap they'd been given? That's pretty sad. If I get an article of clothing, I like to know what it looks like, both by itself and in relation to the rest of my wardrobe. It's bad enough to see somebody wearing a cap with the logo of Head, an athletic-apparel company--you get the feeling it's a parts label in case of accidental decapitation. Combining it with a Miller Lite "Great Taste. Less Filling" T-shirt is far worse.

Second, I don't accept the premise that logo-laden swag is strong marketing. Not counting Tiger Woods and his 14 Nike "swooshes" per ensemble, the only people I know who wear these things are technology personnel, fellow journalists, employees of the company itself, and people at trade shows. It's preaching to the choir, marketing to people who have no ability to buy, or enabling the poor fashion choices of geeks. None of these are exactly contributing to the betterment of civilization.

Besides, even the relatively high-quality clothing of this kind seems to be made of a fabric that actually draws extra moisture and odor out of the body and bonds with it permanently. It's the real reason that server rooms are so well ventilated.

Third, I don't want clothing as a corporate gift. Nobody does, unless that corporation is Hugo Boss. Even then, a minimalist approach to the logo is appreciated. People (read: "I") used to get mocked for wearing shirts with little alligators or lawn boys or polo ponies over the breast pocket. Why do I want actual words, let alone ones touting something I'm not getting paid to endorse? As I indicated in my previous column, I want toys, snacks, or services. I can't play with, eat, or otherwise be entertained by a fleece hoodie, at least not in any meaningful way.

I'm no stranger to this sort of marketing. I grew up as the son of a film industry executive: If a movie was being released in the U.S., I was probably getting a shirt, hat, or poster. At least it made sense in that context; promotional material from Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid might not fetch much on eBay today, but, at the time, the shirt for it started conversations about the movie, and might have influenced people to go see it. What are the odds that the guy next to you at the doctor's office is going to care about the newest database from CodeMonkey.com?

Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com.

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