Yay team! Rally, Go! Cheers to your alma mater! We think that expressions of adoration for your educational institution are a great thing (though presumably we can all also agree that some significant changes need to be made to the institution of college level sports). But one of the big misconceptions, or socialization tricks, is that your love for your alma mater or current college or university institution is directly proportional to the amount of gear that you own to support it. But that’s not necessarily true – or even actually true at all! Today we’re taking a look at the consumer marketing machine as it relates to college gear.

Firstly, Your College Sweatshirt is Absolutely Fine to Own.

We want to be clear that we’re not telling you that you shouldn’t buy or own college gear for your favorite institution, be it your alma mater, your child or parent’s alma mater or your local or state college powerhouse. Everybody needs to find their own place of comfort on the Postconsumer scale, and that could include college merchandise. We think that it’s healthy to have passion about things in life, and having passion for a college or university isn’t a bad place to channel that. We just want you to go into your college gear purchases with the knowledge of how the consumer marketing machine is operating, so that you can make informed decisions.

College Gear: Where More is Never Enough. Ever.

How many want college sweatshirts, t-shirts, track suits, keychains, holiday ornaments, flags, blankets, coffee cups, beer koozies, pillows… this list could go on! The question is how much of it do you need? The answer is likely much less than you think. Again, we don’t think that wanting to show your pride in an institution is bad. But the goal of the college merchandise marketing machine is to make you think that you need to emblazon your logo on every single possible thing that you can own. And we’re not even saying that this is necessarily inappropriate for a small number of people (think the kind of person who devotes an entire room of décor to his or her favorite college). But for the vast majority of people, you don’t need thousands of dollars’ worth of college merchandise. So why does it sometimes feel as though you do?

Part One: It Feels As Though You Need Thousands of Dollars’ Worth of Merchandise Because College Gear Merchandisers are Smart and Good at Their Jobs

If you went into your local college gear store or to the official merchandise website to buy gear and what you saw was a logo-branded diaper bag or a logo-branded toilet seat cover, would you buy it? We concede immediately that there are a handful of people who are just such huge fans that they would. But for the larger percentage of people, you likely wouldn’t have a huge interest in such a purchase. The merchandisers who develop the gear that’s being sold know that. They pour through sales data and demographic data to create merchandise that a typical college fan would use. Think things that go in your den or that you can use when attending a game. And they don’t stop with smart merchandising decisions. They make sure that every season the look on the sweatshirts and apparel gear is different. One year it may be vintage throw back. The next year it may be all modern lines. This is a theory similar to fashion merchandising in that people are prone to want to follow trends. So as long as the trends on your college gear keep changing, you’ll keep wanting new items. Like we said, college gear merchandisers are smart.

Part Two: It Feels As Though You Need Thousands of Dollars’ Worth of Merchandise Because College Gear Marketers are Smart and Good at Their Jobs

For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to ignore any of the times that you may be on campus and want to buy college gear. That’s a natural reaction, as it may also be if you’re buying gear at a game or other college event. But is it a natural reaction to want to buy gear at the airport? No, but college gear marketers know that you are a captive audience and will snag you there. They’re also excellent email and social marketers because they can easily segment a very targeted list – graduates, current students, parents and alumni. They also know that there are times of the year when you are more prone to buy, and we’re not just talking about the holidays and other highpoints of consumer season. Back-to-school is obviously a time when parents and students are stocking up on gear. And don’t think that every big rivalry game and potential playoff game isn’t already scheduled into the college gear marketing calendar for your institution. Marketers know that you’re more likely to make an impulse gear purchase as game day approaches. College merchandise marketers are smart, but you can be smarter.

Your Job: Keep Spirit and Perspective

As we said earlier, we don’t want you to feel like there’s something “wrong” with showing your school spirit by wearing logo gear. But we do want you to make mindful choices. For example, before you buy that new sweatshirt, take a moment to ask yourself if you’re buying it because you really want or need a new sweatshirt, or because a merchandiser was smart enough to create a new trend for the season and a marketer was smart enough to email you a week before the big rivalry game? There’s nothing inherently wrong with making a purchase, but making a purchase because the consumer machine “tricked” you into it isn’t in anybody’s best interest. Use the tools and knowledge that you have to break the cycle.

Did we miss a way that the consumer media machine gets you to buy college gear that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Jimmy Cardosi via Flickr