Would you feel uncomfortable if your kid’s little league team was sponsored by Ford? What about Coke?
Earlier this week, TechCrunch posted an article about Apparel Media, a new startup that acts as an intermediary between large brands and small organizations that could use some extra funding for their apparel. Big Brands looking to go local can chose specific customer demographics and locally target down to specific zip codes. Small organizations like little leagues, college intramural teams, and community groups can get discounts on their team apparel between 20%-80% off, according to the company website. So everyone wins, right?
I’m not so sure. On one hand I have to hand it to Apparel Media; they came up with an exceptional idea and seem to be executing it quite well. Other start-ups should take note at how they successfully intertwined the physical and digital – without relying on smart phones to do the heavy lifting. So, kudos to Apparel Media.
On the other hand, I’m a bit worried about the long-term consequences that could result from this technology. My first fear is that this service could slowly erode our sense of community. Apparel Media’s “core strengths” page says explicitly that they “build relationships by weaving your brand into the fabric of local communities,” but is this something we really want? I’ll concede that Coca Cola is definitely part of the fabric of Atlanta, but something tells me they’re already sponsoring local teams.
Despite their claims, I’d argue that this technology unwinds the “fabric of community” while the brands are weaved in. Consider the example of a collegiate ultimate Frisbee team that wants to raise money. Without this program, they are forced to go out and engage with fellow student groups and possibly small businesses in the area. If Apparel Media takes off, they might only have to log in, pick up a Honda sponsorship, and cover the remaining costs themselves. Granted, this will be convenient for a bunch of lazy college kids, but possibly bad for the social fabric of the institution.
Another fear is the gradual incursion of big brand messaging into our most commonplace spaces. Naomi Klein writes about this problem in her work “No Logo,” specifically in the “no space” portion. Although I think Klein’s work can be overstated, it does give me pause that Coke can now sponsor a T-ball game. Many readers may think, “well, if the parents don’t like it, they don’t have to use it,” but in an era when many schools are cutting athletic funding, parents may not have a choice.
I’ll certainly be following this company, and I’d love to hear what you all have to say on the issue. Please leave your comments below, or drop by our Facebook Page.