This being America, the Galactic Capital of Capitalism, it's no wonder folks try to cash in on just about everything — including the presidential election.
Give us a big event — the Olympics, the World Series, a blockbuster movie — and we will offer you all kinds of foodstuffs and folderol that are linked, however loosely, to the occasion.
The quadrennial political contest offers a special opportunity for opportunists: "Presidential election year tie-ins are like Super Bowl promotions," says Will Feltus of National Media Research, Planning and Placement, a Republican strategy firm. "Without the licensing fees."
And so this year, everybody's getting in on the action. Along with the usual posters, T-shirts and lapel pins, other election tie-ins are popping up across the land. Here are a few quirky ones that caught our eye:
1) The 7-Eleven Coffee Cup Challenge. Since 2000, the 7-Eleven convenience store chain has offered customers the chance to express their political leanings via coffee cups. This year supporters of President Obama can choose a blue cup and supporters of Mitt Romney can pick a red cup. Stores also offer nonpartisan cups. Running totals are posted daily on the "7-Election" website. According to a statement, the company hawks about 1 million cups of coffee a day. And in the past three presidential elections – with more than 6 million cups tallied in each — sales have mirrored election results.
"I don't see any downside," Feltus says. "Shoppers at 7-Eleven ... who do vote and support a candidate might be likely to keep their red or blue cup on their desk as a way to show their allegiance. Meanwhile 7-Eleven gets product placement advertising."
2) The California Tortilla Presidential Burrito Bowl Election. "Obama's Chicken Teriyaki Luau Bowl is beating Romney's Mexican Mitt-Loaf Bowl by a mere four percentage points: 52% to 48%," the California Tortilla website reports after a few weeks of selling the two dishes. "If you want your guy to be president, you better come in and order his fabulously delicious burrito bowl as often as you can."
3) The Spirit Halloween Mask Presidential Index. In partnership with Rock the Vote, the Spirit Halloween stores are encouraging trick-or-treaters to buy the mask of their chosen candidate — Obama or Romney. In a statement, Spirit Halloween CEO Steven Silverstein says the Index — based on mask sales — "has proven to be a consistent and accurate predictor of the next president for nearly two decades."
4) The Luster Premium White Study of Presidential Teeth. The oral care products brand Luster Premium White reports in a media release that its research points "to presidential candidates' teeth whiteness as a leading indicator of election success." Based on an analysis of pictures from elections dating back to 1992 — with photos adjusted "to control for changes in ambient lighting and environmental conditions," Luster determined that Bill Clinton had whiter teeth than George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. George W. Bush had brighter enamel than Al Gore and John Kerry. And in 2012? "Unless Romney makes a dental correction," and by that they mean uses more teeth whitener, "it looks like another win for Obama."
5) The Stockton Ports Bleacher Seat Cushion Survey. Earlier this summer, the minor league baseball team in California advertised a promotion offering ticket-holders seat cushions with President Obama's face on one side and Mitt Romney's face on the other. Fans were told to sit on the face of the candidate they wanted to lose, and to share their thoughts on Twitter using hashtags #SitonMitt and #BunsonObama.
6) The Boston Market Left Wing/Right Wing Bowl Poll. This restaurant chain has been offering customers the choice between a Left Wing Bowl ("liberally sprinkled" with chicken) and a Right Wing Bowl ("fiscally conservative, responsibly assembled, loaded" with turkey).
"I am impressed with the creativity of these companies to tie in their sales with the political contests," says Philip Kotler, professor of international marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
The 7-Eleven choice of cups "might be a good conversation starter when a Democrat sees someone take a Republican cup and they start talking — or arguing," Kotler says. "The risk instead is they fight and this will hurt the companies."
In the final analysis, Kotler is asked, do such marketing tie-ins cheapen the American political process? "I can't think of these arrangements cheapening any further the political process, which is at so low a standard today," Kotler says. If the marketing schemes "get people of different persuasions to start a conversation, it might be helpful."