SOI 2012 - Buyers: Campaign Boost

Pay Attention This Fall To The Battle For The White House

Buyers: Campaign BoostLooking for one of the biggest market changers this year? Pay attention this fall as the battle for the White House and other political seats across the country heat up. Yes, election business is booming right now, with ASI forecasting growth in the election market from about $200 million in distributor revenues last year to more than $800 million this year.

"Spending is going up geometrically every presidential cycle," says Bruce I. Newman, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Political Marketing and professor of marketing at DePaul University. "Obviously, the Internet has become a much more viable outlet for candidates to deal with money-raising, spending, selling, etc. But the use of promotional tools at the presidential level and all levels in this country for elections continues to grow because marketing is growing as a key driver of all political campaigns. If you're in the promotional areas, you know marketing very much hinges on the use of promotions to disseminate information."

With the State of the Industry report projecting that 2012 will result in $870 million in election-related promotional product sales, there's no better time to get into the political campaign market – but distributors need to know what campaigns are looking for in order to be successful.

For one, while younger people typically don't vote in large numbers, they're usually the ones who buy the most campaign ad specialties. "I think that disposable income is an issue that has a very different meaning in the mind of a young person," Newman says. "These people have a budget that's used on discretionary items in a way that a family of four wouldn't spend as easily. I just think that older folks are a little more careful with their money.

"Also, younger people in the last election cycle got a lot more involved in campaigns, especially in Obama's campaign. So, it's the younger ones who are willing to spend on these promotional items. Those products that would be of interest to a younger person are T-shirts, caps, clothing items and other items like buttons, stickers, cups and pens."

Carl Gerlach, director of marketing for Counselor Top 40 Supplier Gill Studios (asi/56950), which specializes in election-related promotional materials, says an assessment of the political spending climate is a little trickier this year compared to most because of some unique variables in 2012. "The two big differences this year are a decrease in the number of presidential candidates for both parties, and the primaries being held at different times," he says. "However, we anticipate this will be a better year than the last presidential election four years ago."

Gerlach says some of the more traditional political products are still Gill's strongest, such as signs, bumper stickers and lapel stickers. But as Newman indicated, items that are geared toward the younger crowd are also on the upswing. "There has been a growing interest in our new temporary waterless tattoos as a campaign tool at events, for example," he says.

There are also indications that there is a big spike in demand for made-in-America promotional campaign items, which is a trend that Newman echoes. "That's probably a post-9/11 phenomenon, and it probably ties into the general movement and gravitation toward people's respect for, and interest in, America as an entity as a whole," he says. "And of course, that nationalistic fervor gets spiked when people start watching the news and listening to candidates talk about the USA and what it means to the rest of the world."

Wendy Colucci, IT coordinator for Kinane Co. Printing (asi/242466), says her company learned a big lesson in this area in the last midterm election cycle of 2010, when she requested 300 blue, union-made baseball caps for a gubernatorial candidate's campaign.

"It started off with a call from the governor's office asking for a quote of hats made in the state and union-made," she says. "We found a vendor that printed the union bug label."

When the hats arrived from the union supplier, Colucci quickly discovered a big problem. "I inspected them to find a ‘Made in China' tag attached to the hats," she says. "My heart sank, and I quickly called the vendor and explained the situation. After a bit of back and forth, we ended up having the hats remade at a slightly higher price, in the USA."

Fortunately, the gubernatorial campaign never heard about the mishap – but Colucci did not even try to get the campaign to sign off on the foreign-made caps. "I've been involved in enough campaigns to know that this was never going to fly. When I get orders for ad specialties, nine times out of 10, it's a request for union-made, American-made goods," she says. "I never dreamed that a union supplier would even think about buying hats made in China. Lesson learned."

Newman says any promotional product company that has yet to learn that lesson will be in hot water – especially during this particular election cycle. "I think it'd be foolish to buy things made in China," he says. "I think there's certainly a segment of voters out there who will respond to any candidate who represents America in a way that maybe an opponent doesn't."

"Over the years, we've had presidential candidates that have driven cars not made in the U.S., and it became a news item for a week," Newman says. "But my advice to any candidate would be to avoid anything not made in this country."

According to Newman, the made-in-America angle can be an effective way for distributors to get a leg-up on competitors who offer the same products at a lower price, but who brought products in from overseas. "It would be a tremendous competitive edge for any company to make that point," he says.

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