Apparel Media’s Interactive T-Shirts Boost Brands on Campus

Mischief. Mayhem. Deodorant. Axe, SeamlessWeb, and Epic Media Group have all deployed QR-code T-shirt campaigns to reach college students, with the help of a young company called Apparel Media.

Apparel Media’s Interactive T-Shirts Boost Brands on Campus
Apparel Media

In 2005, Jared Golden and Amish Tolia were undergrads at Indiana University, where they ran an apparel printing business on the side. From campus groups, they kept getting the same request: Could you find a brand to sponsor us, to offset the cost of these T-shirts, hats, or sweats? Golden and Tolia, who graduated in 2007 and 2008, respectively, realized they had a hot idea for a company on their hands, and they launched Apparel Media in 2009. Now, with three recently unveiled campaigns involving QR-code-equipped apparel, they’re helping brands reach college organizations all around the country. A program for Axe, the men’s grooming products company, just launched for men’s sports teams in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) yesterday.


Here’s how the program works. The SEC is full of men’s sports teams looking for T-shirts and other apparel. A representative of the University of Florida’s rugby club, say, might call up a local printer, a printer that Apparel Media will have partnered with. The team member says he wants to order shirts, and the printer says that Axe has offered to offset the cost of the shirts if the team agrees to participate in a promotion. The discounted shirts, when they arrive, come with samples of Axe products, and–here’s the intriguing part–with QR codes affixed to each shirt. (Interactive T-shirts, of course, being the hottest new fashion.)

The shirts then become a cornerstone in a QR game designed to drive engagement with the brand. Players urge their friends to scan the code on their shirt, earning points when they do. With each scan, a promotion is downloaded to the scanning smartphone, and that user is invited to join in the game, too. If your code is scanned, you earn points; and if you earn the most points, you win a prize. Congratulations to “Gerry A” of Bloomington, IN, who is in the lead at the time of posting.

If a team orders 50 shirts, and 100 organizations throughout the SEC order shirts, suddenly you have 5,000 brand ambassadors strutting around campuses. And since all the scan data is tracked, Axe can measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

Here, Apparel Media has even put together a cute acronym summing it all up:


Axe, a Unilever brand, has been experimenting with several novel ad forms of late:

Apparel Media has also partnered with the online food delivery company SeamlessWeb, which while successful in the New York corporate world, is looking to drive adoption on the consumer level, Golden tells Fast Company. A SeamlessWeb T-shirt scanning game launched last week in schools in DC and Boston. A third partnership is with The Epic Media Group, which wants to boost recruiting on college campuses. This semester, Epic Media launched an Apparel Media program at the Big Ten schools and several colleges in the Chicago area, roughly 15 schools in total. If campus groups get a certain percentage of their members to participate in a survey (and recruiting tool), they’ll get money off of their apparel purchase.

Each program will run through the end of this semester.

The college market might seem large enough, but Golden points out that it constitutes only about a fifth of the custom apparel market: “A much larger bucket are the K-12 schools purchasing for teams, special events, field trips,” not to mention events for adults like jazz festivals, fundraising walks, Church groups, Boy Scout groups, and so on, Golden tells Fast Company. “All are looking for sponsorships, and all are hard-to-reach, attractive demographics.”


Leveraging smartphones and game mechanics, Apparel Media seems to have found a clever way for big brands to infiltrate small circles of trust.

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[Image: Apparel Media]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.