The mid October public service announcement from MoveOn.org followed a familiar pattern. A high profile director, in this case The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman, filmed celebrity actors from the cast of soap opera Gossip Girl and photogenic "real" people promoting a message in support of Barack Obama. In this particular ad, teen heartthrob Penn Badgley brandishes a baseball cap printed with the slogan "Drill Baby Drill" in outrage at the sentiment of the Republican slogan.
In doing so, Badgley made Jason Bostic's day.
"MoveOn AND Gossip Girl hate me?" Bostic, 29, gleefully wrote on his blog, AmericanElephant.com. "Life is good!" For Bostic, designer of the hat as well as other Republican merchandise, being pilloried by two contemporary cultural phenomena—one, an unapologetic liberal champion, the other a TV show that glorifies the life and times of East Coast elites—has been the highlight of an otherwise disappointing year. He shuttered his Cary (N.C.) mortgage business back in September, a victim of the credit crunch and the slumping housing market.
Presidential elections traditionally inspire the sale of candidate-supporting merchandise. But this year, just as Barack Obama has famously adopted Web 2.0 tools (BusinessWeek, 6/24/08) to galvanize the Facebook generation, individuals have been able to use the Web to have their say—and sell it, too. Sites such as CafePress.com offer members the opportunity to print an image onto any of around 100 items, from T-shirts to buttons to yard signs. "Shopkeepers," as members are known, simply upload an image, decide what types of items to print on, and set a sale price. Products are produced and distributed whenever orders are placed.Election-Related Merchandise
As of Oct. 25 nearly 2.8 million items had been tagged "Barack Obama" on CafePress; just over 1.7 million were tagged with the name of his Republican adversary, John McCain. Amy Maniatis, vice-president of marketing for CafePress, reckons that election-related merchandise currently comprises some 35% of its business. (While CafePress doesn't break down figures, sales were $100 million for 2007.)
"Elections in general have been a wellspring for political junk and souvenirs," says Steven Heller, a prolific design writer who's been monitoring the design and graphics of the election on The New York Times election blog, Campaign Stops. "This year, there's more of it because it's easier to do DIY stuff and distribute it through the Web." Certainly, the prevalence of broadband connections and the sophistication of readily available design tools has led to an astonishing variety of designed goods—and a spectacularly quick pace of their arrival.