Star Power

Apparel is a perfect fit for memorable promotions. These case studies show you how to make sure your client's message gets top billing.

Ellen DeGeneres knows the power of promotional products. The reigning queen of afternoon talk shows is known for gifting her celebrity guests with wacky, memorable, specially designed promotional items, such as a baby carrier bearing huge angel wings for Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr, complete with makeup and hair accessories.

But one of Ellen’s most popular giveaways is her branded male underwear, which she presents to male celebrity guests, sometimes on air, but more often in a gift bag for appearing on the show. A number of recipients, including country singer Tim McGraw and R&B singer/songwriter Jason Derulo have been caught wearing the skivvies in candid photos, the Ellen waistband visible above their low-slung jeans. She’s so well-known for the underwear giveaways that OneRepublic lead singer Ryan Tedder turned the tables on Ellen and gifted her on the show with a pair of undies bearing his band’s name on the waistband.

DeGeneres offers a variety of promotional items for sale on her website, including her underwear.

Like smart marketer Ellen, "Apparel is one of my favorite things to do – it’s so visible," says Jeff Holt, VP of marketing at Image Source (asi/230121). "If someone is wearing an apparel item, it implies a deep level of acceptance and support for that brand."

We tapped our experts for more cool examples of wearable promotions for inspiration.

Collegiate E-Commerce Success Story

Account manager Brent Daniels at American Solutions for Business (asi/120075) has been on an e-commerce hot streak, says Wayne Martin, ASB’s VP of strategic operations support. In the last 24 months, Daniels has embraced e-commerce programs with just-in-time, on-demand decorating capabilities as a value-added resource that attracts new customers.
   Daniels first suggested ASB’s proprietary ACES e-commerce technology to Portland State University (PSU) over a year ago. The school wanted to build branding around a program, "Portland State of Mind" that celebrated events around the Portland community and on campus.

Initially, ASB provided T-shirts with a Portlandia style and feel, designed by PSU student artists, which included images of a campus food cart and the "Victor Viking" school mascot. The tees were sold online and on campus, and were advertised in the school’s alumni newsletter, that goes out to some 100,000 people, says Daniels.
   The success of the first year’s program led to a new program called "Fearless," in which PSU students are encouraged to be fearless in their choice of academic pursuit. The new Fearless e-store gives the students the ability to customize their apparel to proclaim their choice. They could be a "Fearless Architect," or a "Fearless Teacher" or "Fearless Fireman," explains Daniels.  The Fearless program is supported online by YouTube videos produced by students that explain the programs and how to order the merchandise.

Both programs have been very popular in terms of orders and visibility on campus, says Daniels. In addition, other clients in the collegiate market have approached him about the program, he adds.
   Colleges and universities are one of the top markets for apparel today, says The Scarlet Marketeer’s Mary Ellen Sokalsi, citing admissions, bookstores, athletic wear, fraternities and sororities as prospective niches. "They either want hip, soft comfortable fashions, hardcore workout wear or spirit-boosting pride wear with a collegiate tone," she says. "The fabrics, styling and imprint are all important. The synergy of the three can make or break a promotion."


Accolade Promotion Group (asi/102905) collaborated with the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation in Toronto to provide a memorable giveaway that reflected the foundation’s dedication and passion to raising funds for its Inspire 2018 campaign, says APG account executive Justine Paquette.

The event was attended by the hospital’s partners, doctors, political leaders and major donors, and highlighted the generosity of Canadian homebuilder and philanthropist, Peter Gilgan, who donated $30 million toward the foundation’s goal of raising $200 million by 2018 to build a new Patient Care Tower at St. Michael’s.

APG sought a branded solution that reflected the importance of the event. "We collaborated with a talented design team, Wolfmark (asi/98085), and incorporated an intricate blueprint concept of the new Patient Care Tower hospital addition and produced two premium wearable accessories – a scarf and pocket square," says Paquette.

"We work with many creative promotional partners, and this particular partner was no exception in turning our vision into reality," Paquette says. Wolfmark used a dye-sublimated technique to decorate the two pieces, which allowed the blueprint to be transferred and embedded in the silk material, creating a custom feel. The color of the material was Pantone-matched to the St. Michael’s royal blue.

The custom accessories were distributed by placing the scarves on the female attendees, and the pocket squares on the males as they arrived at the event. Two hundred of each accessory was distributed. "Each person was wearing these honorable pieces throughout the event, and you couldn’t refrain from feeling a sense of unity and support for Gilgan’s family, the donors and the hospital, when witnessing the sea of St. Michael’s blue," Paquette says.

"The attendees walked away from the event with an appreciation of the hospital and will be able to remember that day for years to come with their St. Michael’s accessory," she says. "Peter Gilgan’s family was honored that the hospital created a product that included so much thought and care."

When the Baltimore Orioles released their 2014 promotion schedule for its 60th anniversary season, they noted it was one of the ball club’s "most robust promotional calendars in club history, filled with many new items, as well as several returning fan favorites" slated for giveaways throughout the season. It can’t just be coincidence that the team finished first in the America League East Division, claiming their first division championship since 1997.

"Apparel is an extremely popular giveaway, not just in Baltimore, but throughout Major League Baseball," says Greg Bader, Orioles’ vice president of marketing and communications. He adds that T-shirts, caps and other apparel have a high value for fans, as they can get multiple uses out of the giveaway items.

"Additionally, it’s good for a brand to provide apparel for fans to wear throughout the marketplace as it helps promote the brand image and identity," he says. Indeed, Oriole-branded apparel was distributed at 15 of the 24 home games, when merchandise was given to fans during its anniversary season.

The Orioles’ promotional schedule in 2014 featured six separate T-shirts that were provided to all fans in attendance. "We even allowed our fans to choose their sizes (medium or XL) for the first time in club history," Bader points out.
   There were six hat giveaways this year, including the Orioles’ classic floppy hat (similar to Gilligan’s hat on the famed 1960s TV series), a Father’s Day Fedora and, for the first time, a Wild Bill cowboy hat.

"All of our hats ended up being popular in 2014, but the Wild Bill hat was perhaps the most popular," says Bader. "It was the first time we had ever given away this style hat, and since it was in honor of ’Wild Bill’ Hagy, one of the most famous Orioles’ fans of all time, and in celebration of our 60th anniversary, the promotion was extremely well-received." The Wild Bill hat was distributed on August 9 to the first 20,000 fans ages 15 and older.

  In July, Baltimore sports reporters Zach Wilt and Jabby Burns debated the merits of the floppy hat vs. the fedora on Baltimore Sports Report. Burns called the Orioles’ fedora the "new, hip way of the future" while Wilt praised the classic floppy hat.

"When the Orioles’ promotional schedule comes out, the first thing you look for is Floppy Hat Night," Wilt said, adding "When you think Orioles’ promotions, you think floppy hat!" The floppy hat promotion has been going on since the days of Memorial Stadium (pre-Camden Yards) – more than 25 years, says the Orioles’ Bader. Miller Lite has sponsored nearly all of the floppy hat giveaways, which are distributed to fans ages 21 and over.


"Pink Heals" is a self-described community-based health-care program that brings its grassroots fundraising message to the door of local communities aboard bright pink fire trucks manned by firemen and women in bright pink uniforms. The nonprofit outreach organization was founded in 2007 by retired firefighter Dave Graybill in order to keep fundraising dollars within local communities to aid local citizens who take ill and need financial help.

The group’s mission statement reads: "We have created a brand with our clothing line and merchandise that is sold locally and nationally to help our nonprofit. Only the sale of our merchandise sustains us."

Pink Heals targets cancer and other health issues that affect women and their families within their hometowns. It encourages raising funds that benefit immediate local needs rather than sending donations to large corporate charities that have high overhead costs and whose impact is not felt where it’s needed most.

The words "Pink Heals" can be used to create fundraisers year round for different causes tailored to local needs, such as Pink Heals Diabetes, Pink Heals At-Risk Kids and Pink Heals Communities, says Graybill. "My idea was to create the world’s largest brand, which is actually a charity that can sustain itself," he says. "We are the only nonprofit in the U.S. that doesn’t solicit donations."

Pink Heals doesn’t take any portion of local fundraising dollars or donations, but rather shows up in communities to demonstrate support and empower and encourage local businesses and organizations to raise money that will stay local and be used by its own people.

It will provide its logo and artwork free of charge to local organizations and government agencies if they want to create their own apparel for sale in order to maintain the group’s unique symbol and tagline: "Pink Heals, ’Cares Enough to Wear Pink.’" Pink Heals also sells merchandise on its website.

There are currently over 500 Pink Heals fire trucks carrying its message nationwide, and a new pink truck is built every three weeks, says Graybill. The trucks show up at community events, encouraging cancer patients to sign the fire engine, and selling branded apparel to raise money for local causes.

T-shirts are the best seller, particularly black and heather gray, and a new raspberry shade is becoming more popular than the traditional pink color, says Graybill. Additional apparel offerings include yoga pants, hats, beanie caps, tank tops and baby onesies.

Graybill eventually plans to expand the line to include such items as sandals and towels. "We need to sell what we know they’ll wear to help promote our message," he says.


Image Source (asi/230121) provides promotional merchandise to the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, through its relationship with an experiential marketing firm client.  Each time 7-Eleven opens a new store location, it hosts a grand opening and orders apparel, banners and signage to promote the event.

Image Source’s Holt says 7-Eleven typically orders three types of T-shirts for each new store opening. All three are green shirts with a very colorized logo, but each one is differentiated so that the three different groups wearing the shirts can be easily identified, he notes.

One is a giveaway to the customers 7-Eleven is seeking to draw into the new store, one is for the store employees to wear at the event and the other is for the event staff that are marketing and running the event, he explains. In 2014, the chain opened approximately 195 stores, according to Holt.


Sharon Thompson, senior account executive at Zebra Marketing, says one of her manufacturing clients favors apparel for gifting for a number of reasons. Typically they choose Cutter & Buck shirts because of the apparel brand’s reputation for quality, which matches the client’s own brand image of quality and good taste.

The company’s management is young and progressive, and stays in touch with style trends, according to Thompson. The client favors a tone-on-tone logo, displayed on the sleeve, noting the shirt is "not considered advertising, but comes across as a status symbol that they will wear out and about."

The client distributes branded shirts each time a customer tours their facility or when making a sales call. In addition to three different Cutter & Buck styles, she also has recently begun providing Greg Norman shirts in three different colors to this client. She sticks with high-quality and moisture-wicking fabric when recommending apparel to this client.

This year is the company’s 20th anniversary, and she is supplying 600 custom logoed shirts for its employees. At the fulfillment center, each one will be placed in a tote bag that includes a keychain identifying the employee with their shirt size, "a gift each employee will surely treasure," adds Thompson.


Each year Microsoft sponsors a three-day conference, the Microsoft Global Exchange (MGX), for its executives, product teams and U.S. national sales team. Microsoft’s U.S. national sales team is a significant and high-profile employee group at the conference, typically numbering 2,500-2,900 employees, says Image Source’s Holt.

Each year his company provides the national sales group with a custom MGX jacket that clearly identifies them as members of this elite sales team. "The jacket is highly anticipated and coveted – it’s become a cool collector’s item," says Holt. The design is different each year, usually with a sporty look, and it instills a sense of pride among its recipients.

When it comes to the design, "USA" is featured most prominently, in reflective ink, on the jacket, and the Microsoft branding is more understated, and could be as subtle as a zipper pull, says Holt.

Image Source provided 2,900 jackets at this year’s conference, held in July in Atlanta. The 2014 version was made of technical fabric, similar to a track jacket, and had an Olympic theme. The Microsoft logo was patterned in red, white and blue. The lead time on the jackets is typically about four months, as they are always custom cut and sewn, according to Holt.

When working on a large scale order like this, Holt says, "Sample, sample, sample before you do the entire size run. Take the extra step – the client will appreciate it." You can alleviate any problems or glitches before it’s too late.


Sometimes the simplest apparel item can carry the most weight. The Scarlet Marketeer’s Sokalski recalls one powerful example. A large company was welcoming the key staff members of a very lucrative potential client to visit its facility, and presented the visitors with beautiful woven shirts as a gift.

What was most effective about this particular giveaway was that, over the two-day visit, every one of the 500 home base employees wore welcome T-shirts with the prospective customer’s name on it – two different shirts, a different one each day.

"Imagine you are a prospect, walking in to see one of your new vendors, and every single one of their 500 employees is wearing a shirt welcoming your company," she says. "The clients were blown away, and told their fellow employees about it when they returned."

Each of the hosting company’s employees were educated about the client and the importance of impressing them, so the employees felt engaged and were especially friendly and helpful during the tour. The visiting prospect, in turn, raved about how special they were made to feel by every employee over the two days they visited.

Bottom line: Sokalski says the company easily won the account, and the icing on the cake? It won "Vendor of the Year" the following year.

Jean Erickson is a NJ-based contributor to Advantages.