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Buying Their Vote – The Art of Election Merchandise


Buying Their Vote - The Art of Election Merchandise


Running a campaign has many similarities with running a new business. People can’t buy your product or vote you into office unless they know who you are and what you’re selling. Television and radio ad buys are still the best way to get the word out to the masses, but the cost can be exorbitant, especially for local elections. Social media and a website have become necessary in the last two election cycles, allowing constituents to interact directly with candidates and helping to launch grassroots movements without corporate sponsorship. As candidates look for low cost ways to spread the message and turn their followers into ambassadors, promotional merchandise has become a tent pole of their marketing strategy. You collect donations and your supporters spread your message, win/win. How do you determine what products to offer for your campaign? Ask yourself these three questions.

Who are my constituents?

This year the “Millennial Generation” will be of voting age and will outnumber “Baby Boomers”. Chances are your electorate is younger than it has been in decades. What products will appeal to them? What do they use in daily life? Carly Fiorina’s campaign store has a selection of dog shirts, clearly targeting conservative dog lovers. Ted Cruz has a large selection of camouflage products marketed specifically to hunters. Everyone has personalized yard signs, custom bumper stickers, and custom campaign buttons. Why? Because they work. They give the opportunities for thousands of impressions for each sign or sticker. So then why do anything else? Because they give an impression, but they don’t start a conversation. When your voter base loves your product offering as much as they love your political stance they will wear/use it and talk about it.

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Who am I? /What is my story?

Does the product selection you offer advance the story your campaign is telling? Ted Cruz and Rand Paul both offer Constitution themed merchandise. Paul shows humor in his selection, offering both the “Rand on Stick” hand fan and “Hillary’s Hard Drive with Wiping Cloth”. Ben Carson’s merchandise capitalizes on his medical background by selling baby onesies that read “Future Neurosurgeon & President” and t-shirts that read “I’ve got a fever, and the only cure is more Carson.” Think about what sets you apart from the other candidates and make sure your message sets your merch apart as well.

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How does the product influence the message?

Sure you can put your slogan on thousands of products, but does the same message work on every product? Crafting product specific messages can actually entice supporters to buy multiple items to show off all of your clever messaging. Marco Rubio offers embroidered polo shirts with the sales message “Get your Marco Polo.” The embroidery itself isn’t unusual, but the marketing message is definitely memorable. The Clinton campaign has really tapped into unique messaging, her team has created the “Chillary Clinton” koozie, the “Grillary Clinton” apron, and the “Everyday Pantsuit Tee” a riff on her notorious pantsuits printed on a t-shirt. These items show a marketing strategy aimed directly at Millennials and reinforce her story by showing a sense of humor about herself. Some suggestions? I wish Bernie Sanders used his “Feel the Bern” message on sunscreen, custom sunglasses, or hand warmers. Donald Trump could win over naysayers with giant foam wig copies of his hair; it would show a lighter side that we don’t frequently see in the candidate.

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How does all of this help you get the position as school board president? Learn from the big guys, and gals, with the big budgets. Invest in products that your neighbors use every day and imprint them with catchy phrases they won’t soon forget. If your supporters actually want to wear and use your products then they become walking billboards for your message. Plus, who knows, if it’s funny or witty enough it might go viral. Good Luck Candidates!

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