These campaign products “shape the perceived stereotype in someone’s mind” about who a supporter would be, said Bruce Newman, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Political Marketing and a professor of marketing at DePaul University.
“It’s really no different to business, when it comes to branding a politician,” said Newman, the co-author of the 2017 book “Brand.”
At the bottom of the merchandising pack so far are Delaney and Gillibrand, who have nothing for sale online yet.
The lack of action from those campaigns might be mitigated by alternative fundraising strategies. FEC records show that Delaney has already loaned his campaign more than $4.5 million, while Gillibrand is outpacing her rivals in reaching out to big money donors, CNBC has reported.
Both Gillibrand and Delaney have said they will not accept contributions from political action committees associated with corporations, and Gillibrand has also said she will disavow any Super PAC that attempts to support her.
Newman noted that the candidates’ relatively low profile among voters could limit the potential impact of any merchandise sales, in contrast to Warren and Trump, who are “known commodities.”
“No one knows who they are. So does it really matter if someone starts using a coffee cup with their name on it?” he said. “They basically have to focus on different channels, other than this one.”
Hensel said it was a “mistake” for these campaigns to lag on merchandise sales, but pointed to some of the logistical challenges of selling campaign products.
“If a campaign is late in deliveries, that is going to cause issues,” he said. “You can get some pretty viral social content off this merchandise, but if a candidate is pushing an environmental message, and they send a package with packing peanuts, that is not going to be good for them.”
“My sense is that they want to have campaign stores,” he said. “But it’s not easy.”