White House Marketing: How Campaign Gear Can Decide Our Next President

If corporations = people, then people = corporations (I may be a writer, but I can handle that math). And if people are corporations, then they need fantastic promotional products to expand their brand. With neither presidential candidate holding a statistically significant lead, anything that motivates voting-eligible citizens to go to the polls (more than 80 million of them stayed home in 2008) can tip the scales.

Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have imprinted campaign gear available on their websites to raise money and brand awareness for the 2012 election. But which one has the edge?

Let’s look at the issues!



If only budget cuts were this easy!

Import/Exports: Free shipping in both stores.

Tax Write-Offs: Obama had a $10 promo code (off $50 purchase) for purchases before the end of July. One is recently visible on the Romney store front page, but it’s only for 15% off the Vintage collection.

Budget: Shirts and water bottles are similarly priced. Obama’s buttons are $5 for two and Romney’s are $3 each. Romney’s bumper stickers are $4 to $6 each, while Obama’s are $5 for two. Romney pins are $8 while Obama’s range from $15 to $25. Both candidates offer bulk pricing on bumper stickers, but Obama offers more tiers and better prices at all levels. Also, Obama offers bulk pricing on buttons, which Romney does not.

Foreign policy: All products are made in America for both candidates, which is a plus considering the unemployment rate (but probably won’t deflect from the fact our Olympic athletes wore Chinese-manufactured clothes at the opening ceremonies – yikes!). Romney has this advertised on every page in the store (and within every product description), which is great for driving the point home.

This runway may help Obama keep Air Force One.

For the 1%: Designers for Obama offers $45 t-shirts and $85 tote bags in addition to more reasonably priced items. Variety is good, but it may not be the best move in this economy to have a $95 zip up hoodie. Romney’s price point tops out at $60 for a quarter zip sweatshirt.

Winner: Obama. His store offers a wider range of price points than Romney’s, and a promo code for $10 off $50 purchases is visible on the front page of the store. Romney’s prices are slightly higher per product for popular items like bumper stickers and buttons, but Obama only sells them in pairs. His store also offers bulk pricing for buttons, and Romney’s does not. With a wider variety of price points, visible promo codes, and better bulk pricing, Obama is the clear champion.

Social Security


The right-sided alignment is eye-catching without being obtrusive.

Community organizing: Both candidates have Facebook, Twitter, and email on every product page. However, Romney also includes Pinterest and Google+ on his. Both candidates also have the Share This app which allows users to select from a huge variety of social media sites beyond the “big ones.”

Grassroots campaign: Romney’s store also includes the option of uploading a picture of yourself with the item to show off your political swag, a level of interaction not present on Obama’s site.

Winner: Romney. The race was close with similar layouts, but the visibility of social buttons like Pinterest and Google+ on every single product page and the ability for supporters to upload pictures of themselves wearing branded merch nudge Romney into first place. The social buttons on Romney’s site are also a bit more intuitively-placed which leads to more shares, and every page in the store (individual and category) has an email sign up at the bottom next to customer service links.

Women’s Issues


But not with social programs.

Romney ties himself to his constituency with the idea that a purchase in his store helps America.

First Ladies & Moms: Romney has Moms for Mitt window decals, Moms Drive the Economy bumper stickers, and Ann buttons. He does not have women’s fitted shirts or a section to choose men’s or women’s styles. Obama has a “Women for Obama” section with shirts, totes, travel bags, buttons, bumper stickers, and magnets, as well as women’s fitted apparel (as opposed to unisex shirts and hoodies). There are also Michelle Obama buttons, pins, and a cat collar (?) as well as a button with the whole family.

Winner: Obama. The wider variety of product is a consistently strong point for Obama throughout this race. Also, having women’s sizing and styles for the women’s apparel is a great advantage. However, the firestorm surrounding the Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney “scandal” (where Rosen stated on CNN that Ann Romney shouldn’t be telling her husband what economic issues women care about because the candidate’s wife has “never worked a day in her life”) may have provoke more female GOP supporters into action, which makes the Moms for Mitt and Moms Drive the Economy products possible hot sellers.

Domestic Policy


Lots of choices for a Communist, eh?

Apparel, buttons, mugs, signs, travel bags, and more are available in the Obama store.

Infrastructure: Obama’s store offers more than 50 different types of products while Romney barely cracks a dozen. While variety is certainly appealing, research actually shows that choosing from fewer options will leaves buyers more satisfied with their purchases than choosing from a gigantic selection. With no clear frontrunner in this election, neither candidate can risk the slightest wavering of support. Obama’s apparent edge with selection may not necessarily translate to better sales.

Transportation: Both Romney and Obama have menu bars across the top of the store page that allows users to move swiftly between categories or select subcategories from the drop down menu. However, once a shopper has clicked into a main category, only Romney’s site has a left side menu bar that lists the subcategories and encourages browsing. Also, clicking on Romney’s name on the top of any page takes the user back to the main page (which is opening in a new tab), while users on Obama’s page need to do a little hunting to get back to the main site.

Winner: Romney. Obama’s variety may help die-hard supporters round out their collections, but taking time to sort through them all creates a gap between being excited for a purchase and actually whipping out the plastic, which may reduce overall transactions. Also, users will likely find it much easier to maneuver through Romney’s site. Either way, the Republican candidate is the clear winner.



Presidential promotional products for the left…


Pros: huge selection of products aimed at different, critical voter demographics; women’s sizing for apparel; better bulk pricing; designer clothes for bigger donations from wealthier supporters

Cons: social buttons not intuitively placed; no opportunity to share pictures wearing/using promotional gear

…and the right!


Pros: easy movement between categories; social sharing is easy and comprehensive; free shipping and made in USA clearly promoted throughout store; different packs and bulk pricing on bumper stickers available

Cons: slightly higher prices; promotional code only used on specific line of goods; no women’s sizing for apparel; not as much variety in product offerings for those looking to build a collection


It’s a tie!

While I certainly believe in the power of promotional products, I doubt anyone’s going to change their politics over a personalized golf ball or embroidered knit hat.

However, cool imprinted presidential swag may motivate an apathetic citizen into listening to a brief pitch from a supporter, which in turn could make a difference at the polls this November. Custom products with presidential personalization may also help people become more interested in volunteering for campaigns when they’ve got a fantastic icebreaker in hand.

If you knew nothing about the candidates, what would you think about them based on their customized campaign gear? How have political promotional products ever your political beliefs or behavior? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. Jay

    Personally, I think Barry O, whose campaign HQ is in Chicago, needs to start buying from QLP. He could drive his bus over here, shake hands with us (photo ops with small business owners (local at that), bingo!), and then buy EVERYTHING they sell in their online store from us.
    My $0.02

    • Jana Quinn

      Brilliant! Shoot his campaign manager a quick email and set something up. 😉

      • Jay

        I have Axelrod on the phone right now. Obama will be over next week at some point. He wants pizza and beer… then we’re all set! 😉

  2. Amy Swanson

    What a great spin on the candidates, Jana! I like that Obama has fitted women’s shirts on his page instead of standard unisex styles. Romney gets points though for using Pinterest in his social media strategy. That’s really smart, especially for going after the women votes.

    Way to stay unbiased and fair in your analysis. Nicely done! 🙂

  3. Eric

    So a guy named after sporting goods can actually put together a smart campaign promo website. Huh. I think Amy makes a good point above, too: I don’t mind wearing a promotional shirt, so long as it fits well, and isn’t the standard-issue, curtain with sleeves that some shirts are. I think the wider the range, the better the chance of marketing to different demographics. While someone would like to help out the campaign and only has the money for a single button, there’s another person who wishes they’d higher-end, designer merch, too. Interesting post, Jana…something we never really think about, but crucial to any campaign, especially one for the presidential election.

    • Jana Quinn

      “Curtain with sleeves” is a great assessment for t-shirts that are bulk ordered with no thought to the recipient’s size or style. While I still don’t think offering crazy expensive designer stuff when your presidency is being most highly criticized for its economic policies is perhaps the smartest choice, it probably won’t change anyone’s vote and might put more money in the candidate’s pocket, which is a boost for the campaign.

      • Eric

        It’s a tough issue, Jana: does one offer REALLY affordable crap that’ll self-destruct, enabling 99% of people to purchase it, or give them the best their money can buy? I’m sure there’s a happy middle ground in there, and – you were right on – with the economy being as pressing as issue as it is, a small mistake like offering an overly opulent and unnecessary luxury item could be interpreted negatively by the media, who have you.

  4. Bret

    What kind of promotional products will guarantee that the incumbent doesn’t get re-elected?

    I’ll take 10,000,000 of those.


  5. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great analysis, Jana!

    I went and quickly clicked around on some of the products, and I have to say, I think both candidates need some better product descriptions! 🙂

    • Jana Quinn

      Haha, for sure! While there’s not a chance of changing someone’s vote based on a promotional product description (probably), any opportunity you have to invoke an emotion associated with your brand, you should take.

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