Marketing Technique: Sales Promotion - Choosing & using/Breaking the dress code/Promotional clothing can be highly effective, but there’s more to it than just printing off hundreds of T-shirts with a logo on Robin Cobb looks at the factors t

Clothing is one of the staples in premium promotions. T-shirts and baseball caps are the items purchased in greatest volumes. The range (and price) moves upwards through polo shirts and sweatshirts to almost any garment that is widely acceptable, innovative or can be aimed at a particular market.

Clothing is one of the staples in premium promotions. T-shirts and

baseball caps are the items purchased in greatest volumes. The range

(and price) moves upwards through polo shirts and sweatshirts to almost

any garment that is widely acceptable, innovative or can be aimed at a

particular market.

The same considerations that apply to any premium selection come into

play: perceived value to the recipient and relevance to the market, the

brand and the campaign theme.

Where to source

The options for the client are to obtain the apparel direct from a

manufacturer, or through a sales promotion or advertising agency, a

sourcing house, or a promotional clothing stockist.

It may well be that, for best value for money, the clothing will be

manufactured abroad, such as on the Indian sub-continent. This can give

rise to complex logistics and legal questions, and should only be

handled by organisations with international buying experience.

Tips from the experts

- Obtain at least three competitive quotes and samples.

- Research the credentials of the supplier.

- Decide whether to innovate with bespoke design and manufacture or play

safe with a stock item.

- Have quality testing procedures.

- Check equivalent retail prices.

- Put everything in writing.

- If re-ordering, ensure dyes match original consignment.

- Remember that longer lead times are needed when items are manufactured


- Are there appropriate ’care’ labels and are safety and health

regulations met?

- Establish how the supplier plans to deal with any consumer


- Consider adding to perceived value by replacing labels with your own,

and giving the garment a retail look with swing tickets, external

labelling and individual packaging.

- In the case of baseball caps for the young, look out for subtle style


- With T-shirts, polo- and sweatshirts, decide whether it is XL size for

all (comfortable to baggy for most but not for the rotund) or whether

there should be choice from small to XXL, or more definitive sizes. And

are skinny-ribs in or out this season?

- If a size choice is offered, special arrangements with the

manufacturer/supplier are needed to match demand.

- If sourcing from outside the European Union, be aware of quota rules

and import tariffs.

- For foreign manufacture, use an international quality control

organisation to go on-site.

Quality considerations

Test weight, colour fastness and match, print/embroidery, size, finish,

construction (examine shoulders, neck, hems and rib) and


For large orders particularly, there should be more sampling during

production, pre-shipment and on delivery.

Promoters or their agents often also ask staff to wear and wash the

samples to give them a real-life test. Another do-it-yourself trial is

to stretch the ribbed neck and see if it returns to its original shape;

similarly with sweatshirt cuffs.

For T-shirts, fabric weights start at 120 grams and go up to 180 grams

or more. Minimum acceptable weight is 140 grams - 160 or more if

recipients are to be impressed. The fabric can be combined cotton and

polyester or pure cotton. Of the various finishes available, ring-spun

or combed give a smoother finish and provide the best print results.

Sweatshirt fabrics can be various cotton-polyester combinations, 100%

cotton or 100% acrylic. Embroidery is better than print for


Phone ’Things’ for a free buyer’s guide, on 0181 985 4767.

Branding dos and don’ts

In-your-face branding on promotional clothing for adults is

self-defeating, since people are seldom willing to be walking poster

sites. The clothes that they will wear in public are likely to have had

thought paid to design, and the branding will be subtle. Even on

T-shirts, it may not be on the chest or back but discreetly on the

sleeve or neck band.

Exceptions are boldly branded apparel for fans and enthusiasts, such as

the material issued by pop bands and motor racing teams.

T-shirt techniques

Just when it might have been thought that all the possibilities in

T-shirt innovation had been exhausted, yet another has arrived.

The shirt has been compressed into various shapes and it has been


Dyes and print techniques range across heat change, glow-in-the-dark,

light reflective, scratch ’n’ sniff, raised and textured designs,

plasticised inks, and all-over printing. Now there is the talking shirt.

A tiny battery-powered module responds to the touch of a ’hot spot’ with

a spoken message, jingle or sound effect.

This has been introduced by TSS&P, which says an illuminated LED T-shirt

is also being developed and which predicts a future where shirts will

display moving pictures and even pick up TV images, much like the

tummies of the BBC’s Telly Tubbies.

Other ideas

While the T-shirt and its up-market cousins the polo shirt and

sweatshirt, together with baseball caps, are by far the most popular

choice, there are other items that can be effectively employed according

to the nature of the promotion.

For example, there are his-and-her bathrobes and kimonos, oven gloves

and PVC-coated cotton aprons for the kitchen, rugby shirts, jogging

pants, casual and sporting jackets, knitwear from cotton rollnecks to

luxury cashmere, body warmers and sports socks.

More intimate items, such as boxer shorts, have found their place in

promotions. A recent Tia Maria campaign, based on a sultry night-time

theme, offered lace-trimmed black sateen knickers.

What are the costs?

It’s possible to order T-shirts in volume, printed in one colour, for

little more than pounds 1 each.

Don’t. Even if they do not seem too bad on first wearing, complaints

will almost certainly pour in as soon as they have come out of the

washing machine.

Those of a reasonably decent quality, including one-colour print, start

at about pounds 2.50. The best-known branded names in the promotional

field - Hanes, Fruit of the Loom’s Screen Stars and Russell

Corporation’s Jerzees - move up to around pounds 4 or so, depending on

quantity, grade and print.

Quality bespoke shirts, dyed and assembled in corporate colours, can go

up to pounds 9 or so.

Other apparel can generally be sourced at a fraction of the retail price

for an equivalent garment. However, allowances have to be made for

embroidery or print and any special labelling and packaging.

Trendy designer labels give a lift to the perceived value of garments,

but they are rarely supplied for advertising purposes other than their


However, something of a breakthrough is claimed by promotional clothing

specialist CDA, thanks to a deal which allows it to supply branded Le

Coq Sportif clothing for approved campaigns.


Thanks for their input to this article to sales promoters Stephen

Callender, partner, Black Cat (0181 332 0722); Kate Trumper, account

executive, Interfocus (0171 376 9000); Samantha Johnson, account

director, Promotional Campaigns Group (01689 853 344). Also to sourcing

companies and suppliers Neville Blakely, director, CDA (01386 555 336);

Julian Lyons, chairman, Innovative Marketing International (0171 723

7228); Andrew Hill, director, Pelmark (01763 208 020); Joe Harman,

director, TSS&P (0181 385 7400); Pino Grillo, director, Things (0181 985

4767); Timothy Salthouse, director, Tradewinds (0171 253 4138).


Corporate wear is another form of promotional clothing. For example, one

of an airline’s most important statements is its uniforms. But because

it means a major investment, styles side-step short-term fashions and a

design change is relatively rare.

Nevertheless, Emirates Airline, which often wins awards voted for by

business travellers to the Middle East, is currently changing uniforms

for 4000 staff. The new uniforms, by Paco Rabanne, aim to convey the

message of ’a youthful, dynamic and stylish carrier that has often been

described as a designer airline’.

Don Foster, senior general manager inflight services, says: ’We wanted

to offer staff uniforms that are better suited to their working


Female staff can now wear trousers, while male crew will no longer have

caps and rank markings.


Quality came first in the selection of polo shirts for Moet & Chandon’s

range of promotional merchandise used in trade and consumer promotions.

The shirts carried branding for the champagne producer and its

sponsorship of Formula 1 and the PGA golf tour.

As quality control and timing were primary considerations, they were

UK-sourced. Eight suppliers were vetted before the order was placed.

’When you think of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, you think of a premium

brand,’ says marketing director Barry Thomson. ’It was imperative that

the merchandise reflected this and that every item was of the highest

quality. Top-notch merchandise is paramount, while respecting reasonable

cost parameters. The whole budgeting and sourcing process was very

carefully considered to ensure a successful outcome.’

Stephen Callender, partner in agency Black Cat, which developed and

sourced the items, says: ’It makes a change to have a client who

understands the need, and is prepared to pay a little extra, for



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