With the presidential election less than a month away, it’s crunch time for Joe Biden and Donald J. Trump. And of course, a key part of every campaign is reaching your audience and marketing effectively.
As your completely nonpartisan marketing gurus, we took it upon ourselves to scour the merch of the two major political campaigns, rate them on how effectively they appealed to their audiences, and discuss what general marketing takeaways they give us.
1. Simple is often best.
First, let’s start with the original piece of merch. When Trump first ran for president, the campaign devised a simple, bold design for a baseball cap. Heck, from an aesthetic point of view, the headdress looks unappealing – brash colors, Times New Roman font, all caps. But it got the message across in a clear, eye-catching manner – and proved highly successful. In June 2019, the campaign raffled off its 1,000,000th hat, and those numbers have no doubt increased in the year since. The MAGA hat itself became not just a fashion accessory, but a symbol, in a way that Biden caps and Hillary caps never were. (Just a side note: wearers be warned, you take your life in your hands when you don this cap.) Love it or hate it, the MAGA cap is iconic.
2. Relevance is key.
The Biden campaign has distinguished itself in its rapid-fire rollout of merch in response to breaking events. When the now-infamous fly settled on Vice President Mike Pence’s head during the vice presidential debate, Biden’s staffers had a fly swatter reading “Truth over flies” in the Biden shop in a matter of hours, selling 35,000 in a day’s time.
“Truth over lies” is also a slogan appearing in various other Biden merch, which seems an odd phrase to market, considering how it has appeared in alternate iterations.
During the presidential debates last week, after Joe Biden told Donald Trump, “Will you shut up, man?” the campaign had the slogan slapped on a T-shirt and ready to sell before the debate had even concluded. Now, however, the shirt is no longer available.
— Team Joe (Text JOE to 30330) (@TeamJoe) September 30, 2020
3. Keep it spicy.
Both shops have peddled their own share of “zinger” content – and who doesn’t love acerbic accessories? In response to a report from the New York Times that Trump had paid a total of $750 in income taxes last year, Biden’s shop started pumping out buttons saying “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump.”
The Trump shop also slammed Biden with a shirt reading “YouAintBlack” with the word “Black” crossed out and “Diverse” written above it, the product description reading “First we were told we ‘AIN’T BLACK.’ Now we aren’t diverse. Who knows what he will say next?” The caption quotes Biden’s comments in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, relating that “If you can’t figure out if you’re for Trump or me, then you ain’t black,” and his further comments about diversity in August.
4. Know your demographic
It’s pretty clearly established empirically that Trump has greater popularity among older voters, while Biden is more popular with younger voters. This divide is also reflected in the merch marketed by each shop. While Biden has digital avatar clothes for Animal Crossing and downloadable Zoom backgrounds, in the Trump shop you’ll instead find items such as $70 cufflinks and wine glasses.
While in some ways, the Biden shop does seem a bit more “hip,” appealing to a younger demographic, in other ways, many of the products carry slogans that frankly feel like really bad dad jokes. Take, for instance, the “Cup O’Joe mug.
Or even better, the “Joe is a Wille Big Deal” shirt. Good one, dad!
5. Don’t be flippin’ weird.
What both shops also evidence is that sometimes you can try a little too hard, and just end up weirding people out. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Hand sanitizer with Joe’s COVID-19 plan… for when you are really bored on the bus, we guess?
A Trump coloring book – if the picture is any indicator, this will be more popular with the adults than the kids!
A Trump superhero-style poster – no comment necessary.
“If you don’t like Trump, you won’t like me” shirt – an article of clothing bound to make everyone uncomfortable all around.
A T-shirt of Joe Biden… running?