Challenge 7: Pretension in the Marketing of the Harvard H Sweater


The Product: A new marketing campaign for the Harvard H sweater designed to minimize the pretentious connotations associated with the sweater.

Purpose: To convince more Harvard undergraduates to buy the Harvard H sweater. The last major marketing push for the H sweater occurred in November 2016 and was primarily targeted towards Harvard freshmen. Historically, Harvard freshmen comprise the bulk of H sweater purchasers. This year, the Nov 2016 campaign sold 300 sweaters to freshmen, which is only 18% of the freshmen class. A new campaign is needed to increase that percentage.

Why Aren’t More People Buying the H Sweater?: Initial research (i.e. casual conversations with friends) yielded two hypotheses for why more people aren’t buying the sweater: 1) the sweater is too expensive, and 2) the sweater signals pretentiousness. As there is nothing we can do about the cost, we’re focusing on hypothesis 2: The H sweater is currently marketed in such a way that signals pretension.

Testing the Hypothesis: We compiled a set of 43 actual images used to market the H sweater and asked 108 Harvard undergrads to rank them on a pretension scale. There were no images in the set that were ranked below 4.23 out of 10 (10 being the most pretentious) and the average pretension ranking was a 6.5 out of 10 which indicates that the marketing images are signaling pretension. If this were not true, then we would have seen a lower average ranking (nearer to 1, indicating not pretentious at all). Thus, on average, the current marketing campaign is signalling pretension.

Why the Current Marketing is Ineffective: That said, not all images in the marketing set are equally pretentious. We found that the set of images that ranked higher on the pretension scale shared a surprising amount of similarities. In particular, the more pretentious images currently used to market the Harvard H sweater are typically of models in obviously staged poses. Most models do not bear candid expressions, and few photos are in settings where the sweater is naturally found. See below for an example these traits in an actual banner used to market the sweater in the most recent campaign.


By contrast, photos in the current marketing campaign which are ranked lower on the pretension scale are those that feature groupings of a diverse set of genders who are photographed in natural positions. Images that contained at least one female identifying subject were ranked lower on the pretension scale on average, compared to groups of all males. The expressions are also paramount in assessing pretension: images depicting people who appear relaxed and genuinely happy are ranked less pretentious than serious or staged candid photos.

The New Marketing Changes/Design Strategy: Based on these findings, the goal of the new campaign is to contextualize the Harvard H sweater as a sweater that has an important legacy but is still meant for the ordinary student. In this way, the sweater maintains its special status as classy/professional Harvard gear while minimizing the pretentious connotations associated with it. To emphasize the ordinary student aspect of the campaign, the new images in the marketing campaign will heavily feature female students in natural student hangout spots such as Harvard stadium smiling and genuinely having a good time.

Prototype of New Marketing Campaign: Facebook Ad


Prototype of New Marketing Campaign: Website Banner 


Prototype of New Marketing Campaign: Print Poster 


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