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Branding Tips from a Master: Johnny Cupcakes

By January 20, 2010

How many of your customers have your logo tattooed on their bodies? Or camp out in front of your store for a week to get a limited edition product?

If you've figured out how to turn branding into an art form like Johnny Earle has done for his brand, Johnny Cupcakes, your customers are probably out of their minds for you, too. Listen to About.com's conversation with Earle on branding and entrepreneurship here.

A bit of background: Johnny Cupcakes sells t-shirts and other gear at three stores, two in Boston and one in Los Angeles, as well as online on the company's website and on eBay, where, by the way, the company has a 100% rating.

Johnny Cupcakes has been around since 2001 and last year rang up more than $3 million in sales. When you visit the flagship story on tony Newbury Street in Boston, you can't see the store from the street because it's up a flight of stairs. So you might think it's a good place to buy, well, cupcakes. A lot of people are surprised, then, that there is no food for sale. Just very cool, exclusive clothing. Some people are piping mad about the playful trick, but that's actually good news for the brand: it gets people talking.

Our interview highlights a number of important points about great branding, including:

  • Scarcity marketing: All shirts are limited editions, and there are only three stores (although he'd like to open one in London someday).
  • The importance of a great name: A name like Johnny Cupcakes has soul. It has comedy. It has attitude. It's a great illustration of why a company name is so important.
  • Using alternative advertising and promotions:, or "random contests" like this one posted to the company's Facebook page: "I'm going to put together a Valentines Day video filled with interviews of couples who have met through Johnny Cupcakes. If you and your loved one live in or around Massachusetts, please hit me up with details."
  • Great web marketing: Check out the company's blog/website, which is personally managed by Earle. The depth of content goes way beyond what you'd expect from a t-shirt company.

Oh, Johnny just emailed us with another promotional venture he's launching: "I will be taking my cupcake van across the country and literally selling t-shirts out of the back of it, which pays homage to my beginnings of selling t-shirts out of the trunk of my beat up '89 Toyota Camry. These will all be limited edition, van exclusive t-shirts." If you miss it, there's sure to be video of it on his blog. He also plans to "Tell my customers to just show up at a random restaurant with their Johnny Cupcakes shirts on, and I'll treat them to dinner."

Comments
January 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm
(1) Bubble Ink says:

Johny Cupcakes! He is one of my greatest inspiration! Actually he is one of the tee designer, that makes me now want to be able to be like him now someday! Kudos to you Johny Cupcakes :)

January 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm
(2) Nati Jay says:

I’ve been a LOYAL Johnny Cupcakes fan since October 2006. I currently have 80 shirts to my collection and two Johnny Cupcakes tattoos. No company today can even compare to what Johnny is doing or what he has accomplished. Us customers/fans are getting more of an experience than we are purchasing a t-shirt. He focuses on quality rather than quantity and everything about the company is just to personal and it really does make all the difference. You won’t find Ralph Lauren or Hugo Boss out in their stores talking to customers about the brand or new items and ideas coming out. Its more than just a clothing/t-shirt company, its an experience of so many things and when seeing another Johnny Cupcakes fan, its like you’re apart of a special club that no one else really understands.

I will forever be a LOYAL Johnny Cupcakes fan and cannot wait for new ideas and shirts to come out yo!!!

January 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm
(3) Nati Jay says:

I’ve been a LOYAL Johnny Cupcakes fan since October 2006. I currently have 80 shirts to my collection and two Johnny Cupcakes tattoos. No company today can even compare to what Johnny is doing or what he has accomplished. Us customers/fans are getting more of an experience than we are purchasing a t-shirt. He focuses on quality rather than quantity and everything about the company is just to personal and it really does make all the difference. You won’t find Ralph Lauren or Hugo Boss out in their stores talking to customers about the brand or new items and ideas coming out. Its more than just a clothing/t-shirt company, its an experience of so many things and when seeing another Johnny Cupcakes fan, its like you’re apart of a special club that no one else really understands.

January 23, 2010 at 11:50 am
(4) Esmel Meeks says:

Johnny is a huge inspiration to me and my business, ATE Clothing. As a student and young entrepreneur, I have studied and followed Johnny Cupcakes for about 3 years now. He is an encouragement to stick to your roots, work hard, and to “not sell out.” Great thing about it is he does it all for the love.

January 29, 2010 at 2:41 am
(5) Larry Jacobs says:

Theses tips are really helpful for the businesses today. Thanks!

January 31, 2010 at 2:06 am
(6) Corey says:

I must say that Johnny is a true inspiration! I also have a small clothing brand (Doebotz) and Johnny has help me more than he could ever know, just be staying true to himself! I am a true fan! LOng Live JC!

February 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm
(7) Glenn says:

I watched him speak at my college last year in May and let me tell you…He worked very hard to get to where he is today. He is truly an inspiration to people and entrepreneurs.

He also has to have one of the most creative minds I’ve ever seen. The way he thinks out side the box to brand his clothing line is incredible. If he is ever speaking near you, I would definitely recommend going and listening to Johnny.

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