t-shirts and the subversive future of online fashion (and marketing?)
Friday, May 6th, 2005
Over the last year, we’ve had a lot of fun watching the T-shirt vendors use blogads to peddle their wares. Now the WSJ
It turns out the T-shirt is a perfect fit for online commerce. It captures the Web’s renegade allure and allows surfers to show off their virtual journeys. Easy to make and deliver, T-shirts often cost $15 or less online.
More than 1,500 Web sites now sell T-shirts, says Rodney Blackwell, a Sacramento, Calif., entrepreneur who runs several Web sites. Mr. Blackwell, who began cataloguing the number of sites offering T-shirts in early 2004 for one of his Web properties, tracked just 500 such sites last year before the market exploded.
Here are some examples of their craft. Nothing but tarted up rags? Nope, t-shirts are a symptom of an important trend. After a hundred years of mass market clothing (produced by giant factories, marketed by giant companies via giant media) the web is enabling new levels of personalization, self-expression and niche identity. I think some of these t-shirt companies are going to become major players in clothing, slowly expanding and leveraging their knowledge of this new social and commercial modality. And I think that we’ll see other manufacturers realize that the need to personalize/nichify their products too. Here’s an extension of this argument, a thought experiment about how blogging and niche commerce will cross-pollinate:
Great blogs inspire strong group identities. These groups see the world through a certain set of eyeglasses. They speak in certain codes and fixate on certain issues.
So ads ideally show the advertiser (and the product buyer) to be one of “us” rather than one of “them.” Show some friendliness towards a blog’s sensibilies and two good things can happen. Readers click AND clickers have positive disposition as they engage your offer.
Here’s a thought experiment that pushes this strategy to its logical (and profitable?) extreme.
Every marketer dreams of having a product that appeals to everyone; but most of us would be very happy to sell to 20% of a given marketplace. Consider, for example, Volvo, which sells roughly 100,000 cars a year in the US. What if, rather than simply observing that Volvo drivers tend to be Democrats (65/35), Volvo sought to align itself as THE itself Democratic light vehicle of choice by running ads exclusively in Democratic venues and discounting Volvos to key Democrats?
If a Volvo became an identity badge for Democrats, Volvo might lose 35,000 yearly sales to Republicans, but how many sales, out of the total US sales of 17 million a year, might be gained?
Of course, this is untenable for two reasons. Volvo is owned by Ford and Ford seeks to appeal to Republicans too. And Ford Inc has Republican shareholders.
But what an established, publicly traded company like Ford can’t do, a privately owned upstart with a clean-slate brand CAN.
Consider the success of Ben & Jerry’s. Heck, if frozen milk can tap into a political sensibility to grow a brand, anything can. Ben and Jerry were happy to forgo ambitions for a certain large market segment, the apolitical ice-cream consumers they could never realistically win anyway, to absolutely own another segment that was reachable.