Case Studies

On Socks

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University of Chicago campaign email – Feb 4

 Socks have been on my mind lately, and not only because I’m constantly wearing two pairs at once to fight the unrelenting Chicago cold. Rather, both of my alumni associations have recently sent me requests for donations – in exchange for socks.


Over the years, I’ve inconsistently donated to my alumni associations. I’ve never been lured by a “thank you” gift before, though occasionally I’ve gotten a magnet or sticker or something similar. But when these emails landed in my inbox, I paused and took notice.

So what is it about socks?

They’re useful. Socks get worn, daily. They’re not another tscotchke that will sit in a drawer for five years before finally getting tossed.socksphoto2

They’re unique. Socks usually fall into the bland and boring. But these are different. The Northwestern versions are cutely vintage, with a grinning Willie the Wildcat. The UChicago ones are geek-chic, adorned with the names of philosophers.

The messaging is spot on. The UChicago socks are advertised with emails bearing subject lines like, “An offer you Kant refuse,” and other plays on philosophers’ famous quotes. This appeals to the UChicago nerds (myself included). The Northwestern socks tie into the Big 10 heritage. If it was the other way around – if Chicago tried to message based on its D-III sports team – this wouldn’t work nearly as well.

They’re substantial, without being too much. Socks are a “just right” size thank you. They’re more consequential than a magnet or a pen, but not ostentatious. They ship easily – presumably just in a padded envelope, with relatively low postage.

I’d be curious to know how each campaign did. The UChicago socks required a $25 donation, while the Northwestern socks asked for a minimum of $50. Could Chicago have gained more by raising the bar a bit? Or would Northwestern have had more success lowering their minimum entry point? What, really, is a pair of socks worth?

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