All I wanted was a T-shirt souvenir but alas there was none.
It was the end of another wonderful trip to Dhaka. The meetings had been good, the presentations I had done had gone well, the hospitality as generous as it always is in Bangladesh, I had seen a lot of old friends and made many new ones. As any frequent traveler does I left for the airport with plenty of time to spare, “just in case”, and inevitably ended up getting there early with time to kill. Rather than go to a lounge or café I decided to shop. My son had his birthday coming up and he loves wearing and collecting t-shirts. It sounds like a simple enough thing.
I wandered around all the shops, looked at some cheap shoes, a few decorative pieces, less than spectacular duty-free shops, and various stores selling clothes. All I wanted was an XXL (my son is a big man now) T-shirt with some interesting Bangladesh design or logo on it. NONE!!
A country that makes 80% of its exports from garments, that is the second-largest garment industry in the world. But no good looking, easy- to find, a stylish T-shirt souvenir at the airport. It got me thinking.
Meanwhile, the same week ICE tells me about their 10th anniversary and asks me to write something for this special edition of the magazine. Congrats on the achievement. And thanks for the opportunity to maybe point out the obvious. T-shirts matter. Not because I am a huge lover of t-shirts. But I am a lover of “the little things”. Because in business, in marketing, in getting people to change opinions the little things matter. T-shirts have since the 70s become a major social medium. All sorts of causes, brands, charities, and movements have and continue to use them. Brands like Nike, LEVIS, A Bathing Ape became in part famous because of their use of t-shirts as billboards for their brand. We wear our loyalty to our favorite football team, or band or political grievance for all to see on our t-shirts. I am sure many a reader here has shared branded t-shirts to staff and or customers. Some of us tone down the branding now. Sometimes we will hire celebrities to sign or give them away to add value. T-shirts have become one of those mediums we all use or at least consider without thinking. Because hundreds, thousands or maybe millions of people are walking around with your message on their chest or back may not get a lot of chatter in the marketing media we all know that t-shirts help brand recognition.
And tourism experts certainly know the power of the t-shirt. Thirty years plus ago some genius created t-shirts for what was one of the world’s most dangerous, dirty, decrepit cities with the logo “I LOVE NYC” ( with a heart-shaped big apple embedded ). Part of a movement within the city to help raise pride and change, part to attract attention. Pretty soon though cities all over the world had their own version at souvenir shops. Have you ever been a tourist to any major destination and not seen T-shirts, and now other garments, with the name, symbol, designer’s interpretation of what that country, city, place represents on sale?
T-SHIRTS HAVE BECOME ONE OF THOSE MEDIUMS WE ALL USE OR AT LEAST CONSIDER WITHOUT THINKING. BECAUSE HUNDREDS, THOUSANDS OR MAYBE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE WALKING AROUND WITH YOUR MESSAGE ON THEIR CHEST OR BACK MAY NOT GET A LOT OF CHATTER IN THE MARKETING MEDIA WE ALL KNOW THAT T-SHIRTS HELP BRAND RECOGNITION.
Now I know some of you will be tearing up this page and yelling “but we have t-shirts in Bangladesh”. And sure you do. But if you are a visitor they are hard to find, and not very attractive and not something memorable. And whoops …. that is also why my t-shirt hunt is also a metaphor for Bangladesh. A booming country, with a lot of great hope and attributes. I know it is a fast-growing economy, that it creates many great new ideas, that it has lovely people and many good things. However, I have had the good fortune to make twenty trips to the country. For most people in the world, it is like a missing t-shirt. A bit of an unknown.
Every occasion to make an impression matters. Every little occasion.
Decades of advising brands of all kinds and sizes across the Asia-Pacific have taught me that it is so true. If you want your brand to get noticed make sure you get noticed. You may not be able to afford to buy the biggest signage at Times Square or run advertising in the Superbowl, but you can make sure your packaging will be noticed, make it creative and worthy of word-of-mouth ( that was what we used to call social or influencer marketing tactics).
So back to the opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great if you were visiting my home city of Bangkok or Sydney or Tokyo where I also spend a lot of time and you saw people in T-shirts not just made in Bangladesh but with really interesting designs that were clearly about Bangladesh? Go further. Wouldn’t it be great if people thought of looking for any T-shirt made for any brand in the world and checked inside to see if it was made in Bangladesh on the tag? Use the countries’ expertise in the medium that is T-shirts to drive a deeper appreciation of the overall country brand. Because that is what great brands do. They use their own media as their primary messenger. Think about Coke. The uniqueness of their bottles and labeling is known everywhere. Think BMW, Apple, Nescafe, etc. Great brands first and foremost use the simplest of mediums: a logo, a badge, their packaging, their product. Intel, of course, most famously used a little sticker to make sure that a product almost no one could explain “had to be inside”. Great brands use little, simple mediums to be recognizable, unique, wanted.
What if “Bangladesh inside” becomes a real thing to drive interest in the country?
Little things. Does a dynamic country use its strength to drive greater interest in itself? A country full of creative thinkers, artists (I proudly have Bangladesh artwork on the walls of my office) and many many bright people. Surely you could use one of the simplest but pervasive mediums to bring the Bangladesh message to the world.
Hey IBT, where is my amazing 10th-anniversary T-Shirt?
Hey Bangladesh, use what you have.
Give me a T-shirt.
is the Co-Founder, Marketing Futures and Chief Strategy Officer, Ai.agency