The world has come a long way since Joe McGinniss wrote The Selling of the President about the role of marketing in the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon. Back then, many people disapproved of that trend and criticized the Nixon campaign for commercializing the serious business of electing a President.
Forty-four years later, the Nixon campaign tactics seem old-fashioned and tame. Campaigns employ pollsters to gauge public opinion, advertising gurus to target the message as the internal polling indicates, and spinmeisters to try to make sure that public opinion moves the way the campaign wants it to move. All of this is widely accepted in our digital, hyper-communicative age.
I still balk, however, at the sale of product by presidential campaigns. Go to barackobama.com (the official reelection campaign website) and you will see a “store” tab. Click on the tab and you’ll find a wide range of products for sale, ranging from t-shirts and hoodies and ball caps and coffee mugs to an “I Meow for Michelle” cat collar — and that’s just on the first page of items for sale. Some items are even marked down, and you can get discounts for others if you enter the right “promo code.”
I suppose this is the logical extension of a culture where presidential campaigns last forever and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and fundraisers need to produce money however they can. I suppose you can even argue that t-shirts are just a logical extension of the campaign buttons of days gone by. Still, I can’t help but wonder if pushing the President and First Lady as celebrity “brands” detracts from our perception of President Obama as a President. With the focus on money, money, money, how can you not help but wonder if his decisions aren’t motivated, just a bit, by a cold-blooded desire to sell a new style of t-shirt that gets rolled out a few days later?