Much like Brian Meckler’s article, “Bottom Line Branding,” I have often wondered, “What truly motivates people to buy or not to buy wearable merchandise with a logo?” I have even discussed the topic with random strangers as my own survey of sorts. So this time I figured I would do some real reconnaissance on the psychology behind logos and merchandise.

It turns out, it’s all about the snob factor. Yup. Snobs.

“Snob appeal is often an element of branding as companies try to create an image of quality and desirability to surround their products,” said Dennis Hartman, an contributor. Basically, people want other people to notice that they took that expensive trip or partied like a rock star last night.

Now, there are some people, especially here in the Midwest, who shun the logo and dare to go bare. And that generally has to do with the fact that we too are watching our bottom line.

So let’s take a closer look at how powerful branding can affect our merchandising decisions:

1. Function Over Form

To most people in the Midwest, we ask ourselves: Is it functional? Does it have multi-purpose? How long will it last? For other parts of the country, logos appear to be more impressive to the masses, and that’s why there is so much competition for elitists’ dollars. This is the theory of 360 Degree Luxury: “If customers are spending large amounts of money on clothes, they should also be willing to buy bags and belts that are similarly expensive,” Hartman said.

Let’s take a look at Coach and Guess purses. Your guess is as good as mine. For the thrifty shopper in me, I’d have to see the value in the materials instead of a certain letter on a clasp or fabric. Does it last longer and hold up better than, say, a no-name brand from Target or JC Penny? Perhaps, but I’m not into dropping hundreds of dollars on something that gets dropped on the car floor, the bathroom counter and the bar stool. But I do like items that hold up to years of wear and tear. I say, if you can find a high-quality, “elite” item at a discount – from an outlet mall or one from last season – that’s the time to invest in the brand you like.

2. Brand of the Free

This raises another question, why do people jump up and down and go crazy for a free T-shirt? At the Fargo Force hockey games, for example, the team mascot skates out with his T-shirt launcher and the crowd goes nuts for the potential freebies. Will you wear the T-shirt or use it just because it’s free? Chances are the size won’t fit, but you’ll give it away or wear it while working in the yard. Either way, the opportunity of getting something free is too much to pass up, and the brand gets seen by that many more people.

Many national chains, like Victoria’s Secret, have exclusive deals like, “Buy $75 worth of merchandise, and get a free Victoria’s Secret tote bag. (Limited quantities.)” Most people don’t generally like to advertise what kind of underwear their sporting, but it’s an upscale name that will get you noticed. It’s incentive to spend first and receive a branded reward in return. “This form of snob appeal is related to the marketing concept of exclusivity, which makes products seem more scarce than they actually are. Products with designations such as limited edition, exclusive and limited time suggest that only those who act quickly will have the chance to make a purchase, placing them in an elite category that excludes those who wait,” explained Hartman.

3. What’s in a Name?

I DJ part-time for Divas & Rockstars Karaoke Bar. Hear that name and you just expect a night filled with drama and excitement. I enjoy the name because it simply says it all. There’s no question as to what the brand is. You immediately understand this is a place where anyone can go in and sing like a diva or a rock star for a night. You don’t need a band. You don’t need to rehearse. Just show up and hope for your three-minutes of stage time. That’s a brand that I endorse proudly, and I enjoy wearing my logo clothing when I’m out in public. It’s a conversation starter and invites people to check out the bar.

As a side note, promotional merchandise options for T-shirt giveaways are a sad state of affairs, especially if you want a woman – not a 9-year-old girl – to wear them. If the alcohol companies would create their merchandise in a wearable, normal size, DJs could give more of them away, thus your brand would be seen more often. Just sayin.’

4. Try This on For Size

Many country music fans understand the joy that is WeFest. If you don’t recognize the name, it’s a three-day music festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota that should be deemed a national holiday.

Aside from the stumbling drunks, you’ve got merch tables charging $30 a pop for a tiny, see-through baby tee that barely fits but hey, it tells everybody I was there and I know what “motorboatin’” means.

I’m a huge country music fan. To me, it all comes down to a personality behind the brand, and the experience I take away from the event. This is the one time of year that all of my favorite artists are in one place, at one time and it’s truly a blast to be a part of it. So I plunk down my money.

5. Material World

Telling the world you went to Vail is all about status. You saved up enough money to afford that vacation. For the conservative vacationer, these great times are fleeting, so you’re going to buy that ski vest or hat that tells the world, “I went there. I experienced this. You should too.” It’s a chance to brag a little bit.

This reminds me of a trip I took to Hollywood. I wanted to shop on Rodeo Drive and find something chic, yet affordable that would tell my friends, “I went to Hollywood. Look at me!” I looked high and low, but could not find a thing that didn’t assault my Midwestern sensibilities. So, I bought a magnet and took a lot of pictures. In the end, some people are just too fiscally responsible for logo merchandise, no matter what cost.

Fashion it Just So

So we’re back to our original question, do items without a logo sell better than those that don’t? It may seem that sweatshirts and T-shirts are logo items specifically bought to tell the tale of a memory and begin a conversation. Consumable items, like a lanyard, pen, mug or magnet would fare better in giveaway situations, since they are immediately usable and less likely to be thrown in the rag pile.

Personally, I don’t wear or use logo items unless the design is super-cool or I’m a die-hard fan. The words and design have to be clever and distinct, and the items have to actually fit my body or my personal style. Either that, or the logo has to be so subtle and hidden within a creative design, that it becomes a piece of art in my eyes.

You see it’s all about perceived value. People today have too much pride to wear a logo that may not represent their personal taste. So your branding has to work even harder to fit into the parameters of what’s cool, edgy and fashion-forward.