If the Shoe Sticks: How the Use of Stickers is a Valuable PR Tool

With election season in full swing it’s that time where lawns and SUV’s are slurred with political candidates make their appearances. It’s that time where powerful last names and the oncoming year slurred together seem to be everywhere on the street, and we have bumper stickers to thank. But, this practice of stickers has expanded far beyond just bumpers, now being a part of everyday college life instead of the current election cycle, and moving on to more mobile devices and items of students. Walking around on campus it is near impossible to not see someone with their laptop or water bottle decked out in brands and startups, and that’s just the way brands want it. There’s a reason why stickers work so well in PR, “The characteristics of this medium make it a suitable vehicle for communication, where the act of communication itself is the most important part” (Vigso, 2010). Communication is key in public relations, which is why so many startups and brands seem stuck on the sticker.

In the past few years many new to the market brands have taken to giving out stickers with their products. TOMS, the shoe brand made famous for giving a pair of their stylish slides to a child in need for every pair bought, is probably one of the most famous brands that have popularized this concept, but not the only. Everyone from GoPro to the GVSU bookstore seems to have jumped onto the sticker bandwagon, making it stick,(couldn’t resist). But there’s a reason for this: it’s about telling the brand’s story. As Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, put it, “TOMS was more than just a shoe. It was a story. And the buyer loved the story as much as the shoe”  (Mycoskie, 2011). A PR pro knows that half the battle for any client is being known and being known by the right group of people. So these little adhesives actually do a lot more than just cover the scratches on your MacBook: they actually get other people interested in the story their company is trying to tell, without much money and without being so pressing on students.

These stickers are appearing on college campuses across America. At the University of North Carolina a poll was done about not only the amount of students who use stickers, but why they do. According to the poll. 71% of students who took part reported that they have at least one sticker on either their laptop or water bottle, 69% only placing them on laptops. The poll also revealed why students use the stickers, with responses concluding with for style, to meet people with similar interests, to supporting their school (Green, 2015). No matter the reason why, it seems that college students have become inclined to label what they care about via sticker. But, this means that every college student has the potential to be a walking billboard for a variety of brands, as long as they catch the student’s interest. This is where PR comes in: get liked, and those who like you will support you.

Now, if a company is skeptical about the use of stickers they should be. It offers less control of who they get to associate with their brand, which could be harming especially to a newer company just starting out. But, this could also help a brand find out who is initially interested in them, and cater towards that specific demographic, hopefully helping their brand grow faster. This was the model that Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman used for their now famous website, Reddit. “This marvelous community of communities owes its existence to a massive advertising budget of $500. To date that is the sum total of money that has been spent advertising reddit. Five hundred dollars and every dollar of it spent on stickers.

Yes, stickers: the soundest investment I ever made. I used to travel around the country a lot (thank you, Chinatown bus), and everywhere I went I took stickers with me. I put them on signs, poles, and even other advertisements” (Ohanian, 2012). Ohanian then goes on to say that that the stickers showed a sign of allegiance for the first users, and giving them out to these for free was one of the main reasons Reddit has such a strong community today.

Stickers may not be moving from the college student’s laptops, and they shouldn’t move from the PR world either. Messages and communication are extremely important in the world of public relations, and no matter how childish they may seem, stickers seem to be a great starting ground for this conversation. Just don’t forget the goo-gone if a crisis where every to come up.


Green, Z  (2015, October 7). UNC’s sticky situation. The Daily Tar Heel. Retrieved from http://www.dailytarheel.com/blog/pit_talk/2015/10/uncs-sticky-situation

Mycoskie, B (2011, September 20) How I did it: the TOMS story. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220350

National: Public relations: Swap stickers to help force show children its face. (2007, October 10). Guardian [London, England], p. 11. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA169679506&sid=summon&v=2.1&u=lom_gvalleysu&it=r&p=GRGM&sw=w&asid=3c0a678a8fa3b9fc10e7d6fbd4a279ac

Ohanian, A. (2012, June 28). How Reddit built it’s empire on 500 bucks, stickers, and giving people what they want. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1841389/how-reddit-built-its-empire-500-bucks-stickers-and-giving-people-what-they-want