Every four years as the U.S. Presidential election comes around, licensors, licensees, and retailers create products and promotional initiatives highlighting themes tied to voting. Historically, these have been mostly focused on merchandise featuring vote-related graphics, primarily as a way to offer some fresh and timely designs. This year, however, marketers (many with ties to the licensing business) are taking a more activist role in the weeks and days leading up to the election. While several are selling themed merchandise, they are also taking proactive steps to encourage their U.S. fans and customers, especially young adults, to register to vote in time for local deadlines and to actually vote on or before the November election:
- Old Navy announced it would pay its store employees for up to eight hours of working election polling places, in addition to any stipend they receive from their local jurisdiction for doing so. It is also partnering with two groups, Civic Alliance and Power the Polls, whose goals are to keep polling places open and operating despite shortages of workers due to the coronavirus. Old Navy is also selling a range of voting-themed graphic t-shirts. American Eagle and Levi’s are other brands that are encouraging their employees to work the polls, the former in partnership with HeadCount and the latter with Rock the Vote.
- Patagonia will close its stores on Election Day, as it has for national elections since 2016, and will offer its employees as many as four days of paid time off to train and serve as poll workers. Its employees will also send hand-written letters or texts to voters who are at risk of not participating in the election—the company cites research that many environmental activists, of which the brand is one, do not vote—during their working hours, and provide their customers with information on state-by-state voting policies and procedures. Unlike the other brands noted here, Patagonia’s efforts are partisan. It made political endorsements of two Senate candidates in 2018 and, this year, has sewn tags reading “Vote the A**holes Out” into its apparel.
- Foot Locker is turning more than 2,000 of its locations into voter registration sites, in an alliance with Rock the Vote, saying that it wants to empower young voters to exercise their rights and participate in the process. The effort crosses the company’s Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker, Footaction, and Champs Sports brands. The effort launched on September 22, National Voter Registration Day.
- Jones Soda, which over the years has collaborated with properties such as So So Happy for limited-edition label designs, is touting bottles that feature voting-themed labels. Each has a QR code that allows consumers with a valid driver’s license or voter ID card to check their voter registration status, register to vote, and find guidelines on voting and registration deadlines. The effort is in partnership with the Voter Participation Center, a non-partisan non-profit group that is providing the digital tools. The labels include six different artist-created graphics with messages such as “Voting Beats Not Voting” or simply the word “Vote” combined with patriotic imagery including the Statue of Liberty. The goal is to reach Gen Z consumers, the company’s primary market.
- Puma paired with Los Angeles Laker, first-time voter, and Puma endorser Kyle Kuzma on a t-shirt design meant to raise awareness for voting during the just-ended NBA Finals, which the Lakers won. Kuzma wore the shirt, a black limited-edition design with the message “VOTE!” on the chest and a graphic of raised arms of diverse colors along the bottom, during the finals. It was then released to the public on October 13. The company also made a donation of $25,000 in Kuzma’s name to the American Civil Liberties Union and its campaign to protect and expand the freedom to vote. Puma is also hosting kiosks at its 95 U.S. retail stores, as part of its #UseYourVoice campaign, featuring QR codes linking to voter-registration information sites. The kiosks will also offer reusable masks featuring the logos of Puma and its partner in the campaign, streetwear destination Snipes.
- Chipotle issued a t-shirt—the latest release in its sustainable, size-inclusive, and gender-neutral Chipotle Goods fashion collection, which launched in August—with “Chi-Vote-Le” graphics. The shirt incorporates a QR code (shaped like a pepper) that takes consumers to the TurboVote voter-registration platform. Chipotle’s partner is Democracy Works, a nonprofit that disseminates voter information and will receive a donation from sales of the shirt, which retails for $11.03 on the Chipotle Goods e-commerce site. (The election is on November 3.)
- Sanrio introduced messaging into its social media presence encouraging its fans to vote. Content has included phrases such as “Your vote counts,” “Make sure you (and your friends) are registered to vote,” and “Friends don’t let friends skip elections,” as well as a voting checklist as part of the #WellnessWednesday hashtag. Followers are encouraged to share the messages with a friend. Sanrio also released a Hello Kitty Vote collection through Amazon that encompasses five styles of t-shirts and sweatshirts sporting four different art graphics, each in multiple colors.
This year is unique in U.S. voting history in a number of ways. The global pandemic raises safety concerns, the electorate has likely never been more divided, the summer and fall have been characterized by social unrest across the country, the voting season is a long one with lots of states encouraging early voting, and concerns are growing about the potential for violence at the polls or in the aftermath of Election Day. Many of the companies listed here specifically cited some of these concerns in announcing their get-out-the-vote campaigns, while stressing the heightened importance of having a voice in the election in 2020.
While the bulk of the initiatives are non-partisan, the emphasis on action—rather than simply capitalizing on an opportunity to create thematic designs, as was the main emphasis at this time of year in the past—fits with the current trend for licensing executives and other marketers to take a stand on issues. Research suggests that this is what most of today’s consumers, especially young adults, want.
A reminder that Raugust Communications’ October e-newsletter comes out tomorrow, October 20, 2020. The Licensing Topic of the Month takes a look at prospects for holiday sales of licensed products in a year like no other, while the Datapoint research spotlight examines the strategies companies have used to address the issue of diversity this summer and fall. If you have not yet signed up for this free monthly publication, subscribe here.