How Some Brands Used Merch, Giveaways to Get People to Vote (Though It's Not Really Legal)
Though ballot tabulations are still occurring in some races, the midterm election has largely passed us by, and we are able to begin to access whose policies will affect the public on local and national scales. While incumbent victors, upset orchestrators and political upstarts prepare for their terms, members of the voting public can look back and see where they might have missed chances to elect leaders who could have propelled the country to even greater heights. However, they cannot disparage the opportunity to have had their say, which numerous brands, and even a couple musicians, rewarded them for exercising via merchandise and giveaways.
Let's get this out of the way first: Giving people free stuff as an incentive for voting isn't exactly legal. United States Code Title 42 technically prohibits it.
“Most of the time when businesses offer these incentives, they are just trying to increase voter participation, but it is illegal,” Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a political scientist and an assistant professor of public affairs at Columbia University, told The New York Times. “Under federal election law and in any case where there is a federal candidate on the ballot, it is illegal.”
If one accepts the notion that the U.S. is an increasingly divided country, it becomes easy to appreciate the importance that each vote has earned over the last few administrations. Because of that, numerous entities made casting a ballot an even more rewarding experience by offering consumer-infused perks, legal or not. On a national and local level, these businesses engaged in brand-building yesterday by taking immediate emphasis off their bottom lines and looking toward future revenue by making freebies a companion to doing one’s civic duty. Our favorite, from a wordplay perspective, was Bobo’s #GetOatTheVote social media tie to its oat bars.
From an apparel and political point of view, one could say that millennials are the most coveted audience, and though Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg did not distribute complimentary tokens of their appreciation to that demographic, the co-founders of The Skimm did make garb an attention grabber this election cycle. The two teamed with five additional female-founded companies to issue branded goods aimed to compel millennials, particularly women, to head to the polls. Their No Excuses Campaign channeled all of its proceeds to the nonpartisan organization She Should Run, with the latter having benefited from sales of such items as bangles, bags, sweatshirts and water bottles. (Unlike giveaways, this is legal.) We can only hope that whoever has donned those products avoided any possible controversy through their attire choices when going to their polling locations.
Eschewing the nonpartisan route, Frank Ocean looked to reward supporters of Democratic candidates Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke through a free merchandise giveaway. The Grammy Award-winning singer used Tumblr to proclaim that voters within Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Miami who could produce proof that they had voted could bring said confirmation to specific locations to receive the goods gratis, as he is looking to increase turnout among the 42 percent of the voting population that bypasses election day duties.
— Frank Ocean Daily (@TeamFrankDaily) November 6, 2018
Ocean had music entertainment company in building support for the aforementioned trio, with Abrams, who has yet to concede the Georgia governor’s race despite a 67,000-vote gap between her and Brian Kemp, as the only one who can emerge victorious. Travis Scott, another chart-topping performer, announced he would give away tickets to Nov. 17’s Astroworld Festival to Houston voters, with the recipients likewise taking to social media to show their gratitude.
SAVED SOME TIX FOR THE CITY AT THESE VOTING LOCATIONS. GO VOTE !! pic.twitter.com/tVAu0DGzna
— TRAVIS SCOTT (@trvisXX) November 6, 2018
There has been much talk about whether brands should infuse their political stances into their business identity, and the business giveaways and The Skimm efforts are fine examples of times where entities simply looked to commend people for voting, period, regardless of affiliation. Though Ocean and Scott, an O’Rourke backer, certainly could not shun someone who cast a vote for a Republican candidate, they made apparent their political alignment through their giveaways, and that begs the question: Is it less risky for music artists to try to promote a political philosophy than it is for a typical business? If so, should businesses such as promotional products suppliers and/or distributors continue to keep their political leanings out of their interactions with consumers, or are there benefits to explore through the declaration of their allegiance?