Whip Up a Marketing Storm With T-Shirt Contests

I haven’t quite figured out why, but people still go insane over free t-shirts. Whether it easily changes their mind about attending some event or forum, to driving the crowd wild during a boring sports game, free shirts seem to just make everyone lose their minds. It doesn’t matter how thin or tight or generic the shirts are, either – trying to get a hold of a free shirt is just as, if not more so, exciting as trying to catch a bouquet of flowers at a wedding.

As t-shirt sellers there's a number of ways we can take advantage of this crazy phenomenon, either to spread the word or help improve our brands.

Free Tee Shirts Make Awesome Advertments


Because free t-shirts are essentially some weird form of post-apocalyptic currency, they’re an easy and effective way to market a company’s brand. If you put a company’s name and logo on a free shirt, it’ll get distributed faster than any flier could. And then once they wear your shirts in public, boom – free walking billboard. And because they’re free, they’re likely to be their favorite shirt, even if they’re horrible oversized. That means they’re likely to wear it as often as they can, even if just around the house. Free shirts may not make any sales, but they’re certainly the advertising gift that keeps on giving.

There’s a reason free shirts are seemingly everywhere now; clothing brands know that people love them, and it’s a fun way to boost their traffic, and hopefully, sales. However, before you just start throwing free shirts at people, there are a few things to consider first.

Make the challenge worth the prize. You’re handing out a free shirt, not a golden ticket. Your entry process should be a simple one, preferably no more than a few lines to fill out. If it has as many steps as buying a car does, no one is going to want to enter.

A contest should be social. Whether you keep the contest “in house” among your own company’s forum or website, or you decide to include more people on social media, a fun and creative contest needs the community at large to make it exciting. Getting the news out and building up some hype never hurts, either, and at worst, you may hit some new sales in the process.

It can’t just be a participation trophy. If someone puts in a ton of effort into their entry, and someone else spends five minutes on theirs and they both get a free shirt, it’s likely that your next contest won’t be as engaging. Make sure those who went the extra mile to get recognition for their efforts.
Shirt contests are nothing new; that said, some companies just seem to do it better than others. Their contests are fun, engaging, and really blow up easily over social media.


Threadless, for instance, regularly holds contests for user-generated designs. They’re built up their own community, which helps foster customer feedback, and the contests boost overall creativity. By allowing the community to judge designs, it keeps contests fair, and the winner gets the best prize, cash, as well as a ton of free advertising. It’s a real win-win!

Design By Humans also hosts regular design contests. Although their approach is a simpler than Threadless, by not having a forum approach and not having their community judge, it still remains easy and effective. In fact, by using Design By Humans’ hashtags, the prize isn’t just a free shirt, but also having their designs featured on their page. And with tens of thousands of followers on social media, this is a huge prize to win by a budding designer.

While design contests are all well and good, not everyone who loves shirts is able to design them. For regular contests, it may be a good idea to switch between those that favor your more creative fans, and those that struggle to draw a stick figure correctly. When you’re able to include everyone, more people become excited and then participate.

Leverage Social Media Shares


Possibly one of the easiest ways to host a shirt contest that requires no skill at all from participants is to ask users to follow a certain page and share the contest message. For instance, on Twitter, a simple promo message with a link to the contest, as well as an easy and short hashtag, can gain a lot of traction very quickly. Whether it’s giving away a coupon or voucher or a free product, it can really drive traffic to your store and all but guarantee some sales.

This is a favorite among companies and customers alike. It’s easy to enter, and it’s easy for the company to gain new followers. It doesn't require a whole lot of work and it can easily be shared across multiple social media platforms. This way, it boosts your brand’s presence among several sites and eventually generates more leads for your shop. Best of all, it only takes a few seconds to enter.

Give a Vote, Get a Shirt

Community feedback is a great way to develop new products, but you don’t necessarily want to spend a bunch of time and money gathering data. But what if, instead, you simply asked people what they liked?
If you have a few new shirt ideas kicking around in your notebook, simply ask the people what they want.

By voting on which one(s) they like the best, you can have a better idea of what new designs are going to sell. And to scratch their back for their vote, you can give them either a free shirt, a voucher code to shop with you, or even a crack at designing their own shirt, which you would then feature on your site.

What’s great about voting contests is the simple way you can mix it up with the prizes and promotions side. Best of all, it’s easily shareable – they can send it to others through email, put it up on their blog, or simply like and retweet it. And if you’re extra savvy, you could make an automatically generated Facebook post when they enter, allowing even wider sharing options.

Calling All Shutter Bugs


Everyone these days think they’re a photographer, and admittedly, each new smartphone has a better camera than the last. An easy way to get customers involved in a contest is to ask them to take their skills beyond Instagram and find a certain picture to share. By creating a theme, whether it be cool urban pics, serene natural shots, or even a fun party, customers can easily snap a picture and be entered. And for an extra advertisement edge, you could ask that the pictures feature one of your shirts.

Another spin on this idea is how the winner is chosen. It can be a voting process, it can be an internal panel among your team, or for maximum exposure, choose the picture entry that users have shared the most. This could especially be useful on Twitter and can gain a ton of new followers.

Answer Some Questions, Win a Prize


While no one enjoys taking a long quiz, this promotion can be simple for both sides. Either you come up with a short questionnaire that you can use to improve your designs, site, brand, etc., or you use a quiz field to beat the promotion into their brains. For instance, with a current contest running, the user could gain a bonus entry every day with a simple question that ties back into it.

By entering into a field answers such as the final day for submissions, the contest theme, a promo code or hashtag, or other relevant question, it helps cement the contest into their mind on a wide scale. By forcing them to repeat the details, it helps create more excitement, as well as encouraging more people to act quickly.

How do these contest ideas sound to you? Have you had success with anything similar? Let us know in the comments what you think, especially if you’ve hosted one of these contests before. And if you have any other suggestions for promoting your shirt designs, we’d love to hear them!

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