Of Straws and Pencilnecks

Pencil neck

Hat tip: “Slice”

Inside Donald Trump’s ‘brilliant and sinister’ merchandising operation(from the left-leaning Politico)

The reelection campaign is raking in millions selling everything from Trump plastic straws to ‘Pencil-Neck Adam Schiff’ T-shirts.

Brad Parscale had just boarded a Jet Blue flight earlier this month when the paper straw he was using ripped in half.

As he tried to keep his iced tea from spilling onto his suit, the annoyed Trump campaign manager tweeted that he was “so over paper straws.” Prodded by his wife not to leave it at that, Parscale emailed his staff from the air with an idea: Let’s sell plastic Trump straws.

In short order, the campaign sent an email to supporters with the subject line, “Making straws great again.” By the time Parscale landed in Florida, the presidential straws were already in production and an advertising campaign was up and running. The first batch sold out within hours.

The ploy was part of a strategy to stoke and validate the grievances of Trump’s base — and then turn them into hard cash. The effort centers around novelty merchandise items the reelection campaign has been hawking on its website, including “Pencil-Neck Adam Schiff” T-shirts lampooning the Democratic congressman and Trump antagonist as a clown; “I Spy Trump” tees and tanks depicting the commander in chief being snooped on by former President Barack Obama; and, most recently, the plastic straws. The Trump 2020 online store has marketed the offering as an alternative to the more environmentally friendly “liberal paper straws” that “don’t work.”

Trump straws tweet

The straws — they are reusable and recyclable — have been a cash cow, generating more than $456,000 in sales since they went on sale July 19, according to the campaign. That and other offerings have attracted scores of new donors to the Trump campaign and helped the president build a massive early financial advantage over Democrats.

Even Democrats who’ve savaged the president over his environmental record offered grudging respect for the straw maneuver.

“I think something Trump has always understood very clearly is how to tap into a cultural moment or zeitgeist and leverage it to his advantage,” said Tara McGowan, a top Democratic digital strategist who served on a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC during the 2016 campaign and has been active in the climate change movement. “So for him, taking a relatively new thing in the world that most people hate (paper straws) and leveraging it to both make a political statement and raise [hundreds of thousands] of dollars by selling plastic straws is both brilliant and sinister.”

Trump has long made swag a centerpiece of his political marketing operation. The iconic “Make America Great Again” hat became a staple of his 2016 rallies and has remained wildly popular among his supporters.

But Trump’s team has moved into edgier territory over the past year. It has sold a raft of cheap-to-produce merchandise aimed at capitalizing financially on conservative outrage and backlash against political correctness, much of it stoked by the president himself. During last year’s NFL season, the Trump campaign began selling “Stand Up for America” football jerseys. The American flag-embroidered outfits were designed to tap into attention surrounding Trump’s criticism of football players who knelt during the national anthem.

Over the course of this year, the campaign has peddled an array of Russia investigation-themed items, including a top-selling “Collusion Delusion” shirt, “WITCH HUNT” mugs and “NO COLLUSION” beverage coolers.

Trump officials said they’re on the hunt for other merchandising ideas.

“We kind of let the news cycle pop,” said Gary Coby, the campaign’s digital director, “and when we have an idea around it, we just go.

“I think the president is the world’s most famous human being. What he says and does makes news and you can draft off of whatever he’s talking about,” Coby added.

Pencil neck tweet

Political professionals said merchandising is increasingly becoming an important way to court small donors. People get something in return for their money, making it attractive to those who don’t ordinarily give to campaigns.

On the Democratic side, the first presidential debate had barely ended when Kamala Harris’ campaign started selling T-shirts alluding to her attack on Joe Biden over school busing.

“A donor gets to show their support and they also get to wear their support,” said Zac Moffatt, who was digital director on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “It’s people saying, ‘I stand with this and I’m actively putting my marker down,’ and I think that’s very powerful.”

Trump officials point out that more than half of those who’ve purchased straws had never previously given to the president’s campaign. The campaign can return to those people later for additional donations — or to purchase more gear.

Other Republicans are racing to piggyback off Trump’s success. After Nike pulled alag-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag earlier this month — prompting blowback from the right — the National Republican Senatorial Committee rushed out a “Betsy Ross Flag Shirt” adorned with an image of an American Revolution-era flag.

The committee, which marketed the item by inviting donors to “show their pride for our flag,” spun the controversy into gold. The shirts generated more than $500,000 in sales in the first four days.

Betsy Ross t-shirt

WinRed, a new GOP small-donor online platform that has received the blessing of party leadership, is expected to soon unveil a program that will allow candidates up and down the ballot to swiftly produce and sell merchandise.

“I think merchandising is going to be one of the big stories of the cycle,” said Gerrit Lansing, WinRed’s president and a veteran Republican digital strategist.

The Trump campaign’s success in churning out merchandise partly reflects its streamlined nature. Parscale, a relative political newcomer who spent nearly two decades in the marketing and advertising industry, has assembled a tight-knit operation designed to execute quickly. It has given the Trump team the ability to seize moments in real time.

After Parscale fired off his tweet complaining about his broken straw, he went back and forth with campaign advisers Andy Surabian and Katrina Pierson over how to market the straws and drafted a tweet to promote them — all while still in the air.

Straw tweet

Trump aides on the ground, meanwhile, contacted Ace Specialties, the campaign’s Louisiana-based promotional products supplier, and asked the company to begin producing the straws.

A few days later, the Trump campaign resuscitated the popular “pencil neck” T-shirt, which had gone out of production, to coincide with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the Schiff-led House Intelligence Committee. The garment has generated around $250,000, with nearly 40 percent of the proceeds coming from first-time donors to the campaign. It has become the campaign’s second most popular novelty item, after the straws.

“It’s almost guerrilla marketing,” said Eric Wilson, who was digital director on Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid. “What you’re seeing is the president using his bully pulpit and then the campaign being nimble enough to capitalize on it.”

To others, the campaign’s willingness to invest in tchotchkes depicting a congressman as a clown or a former president spying on the current one underscores something more basic: Its familiarity and comfort with Trump’s smash-mouth style. Parscale, who’s spent nearly a decade working for the president and his family, has paid close attention to the trademark approach.

“They know what they stand for,” Moffatt said. “They literally understand their brand, they know what works, and they’re not scared of it.”



Hey, Pencil Neck




And now, in closing, MAGA – The Movie
(Hat tip: “Joe P.”)
Click to play (2 min. and worth it!)





One Comment

Add yours →

  1. Len Dufresne 02/08/2019 — 03:09

    An anonymous saying: “Followers worry about being liked; leaders don’t care.” This saying fits our president to a tee. Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

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