It seems like it’s always election season. Sure, presidential elections only happen every four years, but when you throw in state and local offices, it feels like we’re headed to the polls just about every year. Don’t get me wrong; I think voting is very important to the whole democratic process. I particularly don’t mind election season all that much, especially because we get a bunch of wacky and weird items promoting (or sometimes making fun of) politicians running for office.
You know you’ve seen them around before. They’ve even been highlighted by some late night talk shows. Presidential elections seem to bring out the best, and by best, I mean wacky, crazy, and fun products.
The last couple presidential elections have been especially fun in terms of products offered. This isn’t a list ranking the best election campaign promo items. It’s more of a compilation of weird items that candidates (and outside companies) have used to propel their campaign over the last few presidential elections.
1. Presidential Chia Heads
Chia Pets were a big hit several years ago. The “Ch- ch- ch- chia!” jingle will always have a special place in my heart. Believe it or not, Chia Pets have been around since 1982, but they didn’t go presidential until the Chia Barack Obama made its debut in 2008.
Apparently, Obama looked a little too serious for the campaign, so the company released a “Happy” Barack Obama in 2009 after he won his first term. The original Chia Obama was branded as his “Determined” look. Then, probably in an attempt to appeal to both sides of the aisle, the company released a Mitt Romney version in 2012. There was only one version of the Republican nominee, though.
2. Cabbage Patch Dolls
When you think about promotional merchandise, Cabbage Patch Kids aren’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Of course, these weren’t offered by a single campaign, but for the last three presidential elections the company has offered dolls in the likeness of the two parties’ candidates and their vice presidential picks.
Cabbage Patch put the limited edition Sarah Palin, John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden dolls up on eBay in 2008 and donated all the proceeds to charity. You can watch a video about it right here. Both the McCain and Obama dolls went for more than $3,000, but the Palin doll actually went for $19,000. So for all those who thought government didn’t do anything to help anyone…well, this doesn’t really prove that wrong because it was a private company that did it. So, moving on.
3. Feel the Bern
The hashtag #FeeltheBern was all over social media when the Democrat senator from Vermont announced his candidacy this summer (2015). It took a while for his campaign to catch on, though. Now, if you visit Sanders’ merchandise shop,“Feel the Bern” has its own tab.
You can get bumper stickers, mugs, buttons, keychains, and more all with the slogan. My favorite is the Feel the Bern mug, just because of the irony with hot beverages. Whether you’re a fan of him or not, you have to admit this was a clever way to get his name out and again embrace a sense of humor that is usually lacking in political races.
4. Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain
Here’s another product that wasn’t offered by the candidates themselves but that is absolutely worth mentioning just because it’s so weird. The Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s were actually sold by the founders of the popular online housing rental community Airbnb.
If you watch the video, co-founder Brian Chesky says when they were first starting up the business, they wanted to send a breakfast food to the people that signed up to host guests in their homes. Eggs and other perishable foods were out of the question, so Chesky thought, “Why not cereal?” They even had jingles made up for both brands of cereal.
5. McCain and Obama Pez
Sometimes companies release promotions that not everyone is on board with. The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, in Burlingame, California, released John McCain and Barack Obama Pez dispensers in 2008. The museum wanted to sell the dispensers as a way to “predict” the outcome of the election.
However, the museum isn’t affiliated with the candy company, and the business took issue with a few things the museum did. A lawsuit was filed in July 2009, which stemmed from the museum constructing a seven-foot tall snowman Pez dispenser. The company was claiming copyright infringement, but it also took issue with the McCain and Obama Pez dispensers since it has never put out political messages. The lawsuit was settled in February 2010, and the terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed.
6. Marco Polo
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio sure does have a sense of humor with his Marco Polo shirt on his campaign website. This item is definitely not as wacky as most of the products on this list, but it still deserves a spot because of its hilariousness.
I can’t imagine what Rubio said when his staff suggested offering the polo on his campaign website. Or maybe he’s the one who came up with the idea? Who knows? But I do have suggestion for the senator: a campaign ad with him playing Marco Polo in a pool wearing the shirt. It’s what the people want! No pool or swimsuit included when you buy the shirt, unfortunately.
7. Filibuster Starter Pack
When the whole National Security Agency spying issue came out, there were a ton of memes and jokes that sprouted out of a relatively serious subject matter. Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul even staged an 11-hour filibuster in May 2015 over the Patriot Act’s renewal and brought up the NSA surveillance. So it kind of makes sense that his campaign is offering a Filibuster Starter Pack.
When I brought up this starter pack to my co-workers, we were all pretty hyped to see what was in it. However, we were slightly disappointed. You get a T-shirt, a bumper sticker that says “The NSA knows I bought this Rand Paul sticker,” and a spy blocker to go over your laptop’s webcam. Definitely wacky and weird, but I would assume a filibuster starter pack would include maybe some comfy shoes or a bottle of water.
This year’s political candidates have come out of the gate looking to make a splash with their merchandise. Not only are politicians and companies having fun with election merchandise (and poking fun at themselves), but the products are serious money-making tools for the candidates, especially since the most recent presidential elections. In 2008, Obama’s campaign made each purchase of merchandise a 100 percent donation to the campaign. Then, in 2012 Obama brought in around $40 million through merchandising.
For me, the wackier the promo items, the better! Whoever said politics is too serious…well, they’re probably still right about that. But offering merchandise that proves the politicians in the race don’t take themselves too seriously (or simply offering a product that pokes fun at the candidates) is a pretty good start in my book.