UT fragrances demonstrate globally-minded marketing strategy

Chuck Matula

“I bleed burnt orange” is a cliche largely understood to be a metaphor, but thanks to a company specializing in college-themed fragrances, it just became a little easier to try to achieve oneness with your university. 

This week, the company Masik, which specializes in collegiate perfumes and colognes, rolled out a new line of UT-themed scents. The line, named “Passionate, Triumphant and Strong,” comes in scents for both men and women. Some of the smells listed on the company product description page as having gone into the formulas are “aged bourbon accord” in the men’s cologne and “skin musk” in the women’s perfume. It appears that Masik understands that hard liquor and body odor are two of the indispensable smells that define UT, particularly on game day. What’s more surprising is that UT is late to the party in licensing its name for a perfume. Both the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University already have their own, and Masik has plans to expand its line to include namesake scents for other universities in the future.

Anyone who’s been on the UT campus, or any other major public university campus for that matter, knows that collegiate brands are important. They’re distinctive, they help define the identity of the wearer and they represent an affiliation or value set to people who see it. A strong brand with a loyal contingent of consumers can be an attractive and valuable asset for the entity that owns it. According to figures released in January by the Wall Street Journal, UT is the most profitable college football franchise at $875 billion in net worth. 

Although, increasingly, churning out branded merchandise leads to bizarre products such as collegiate perfumes, it makes sense for UT to maximize the monetary value of not only the sports teams, but the Longhorn brand itself. It would behoove the administration to aggressively pursue this strategy, if it wasn’t clearly doing that already. The embrace of corporate sponsorship by college athletics teams has become a national norm, and the Longhorns are leading the way in going even further. According to a February article from the Houston Chronicle, men’s athletics director Steve Patterson has proposed UT playing a football game in Mexico City. This model has proved hugely successful for other, admittedly more globally marketable, sports teams. The NBA started staging games internationally in 1978 and has since expanded the scope of these games to more than 20 countries and made these games a regular practice.

Thinking globally about UT and the Longhorn brand is the only way for Texas to remain the financial juggernaut it has become. Expanding the brand abroad could more prominently feature the University to international academic talent. 

“Normally there would be an end for most brands,” marketing senior lecturer Stephen Walls said. “University athletic programs appear to be a bit different in that people will buy anything with the logo. In fact, you can already buy UT-branded car mats. I would say that as long as the product doesn’t tarnish the image of the university … then there probably is not much more of a limit.”

Increased branding for UT isn’t lacking in student support, either: a piece of legislation introduced to the Student Government assembly Tuesday supports the proliferation of branded material around UT campus, which the authors feel would “increase school spirit and to encourage a positive campus climate.”

Some people may protest that the inextricable tying of an educational institution with commercialism could raise conflicts of interest. But raising funds is one of the most essential functions of the University. One of President William Powers Jr.’s chief successes has been his ability to raise funds from the alumni community, bolstering the University’s balance sheet and national rankings. Extensive alumni and corporate fundraising efforts are now commonplace for every major school that runs on relatively unpredictable state funding. It is clear that UT stays competitive through its raising of revenue, and sometimes the best way to raise revenue is to capitalize on brand loyalty and recognition.

These revenue-raising campaigns also serve to insulate the University from devastating budget cuts from state legislators. In 2011, in the wake of dismal budget projections by the comptroller, the Legislature slashed higher education funding significantly. Although funding may have recovered somewhat since the recent oil boom, institutions that take state money seem to have learned a lesson about how fickle and unpredictable that money can be.

So while it may initially seem strange to introduce a fragrance to the market that bears a university’s name, it increasingly fits into a long-term funding strategy of continuously raising money. In a time of increasing financial pressure on public universities, the way to ensure that what starts here changes the world is to make sure that what starts here earns royalties, too.

Matula is a finance junior from Austin.