Advertisers fit their brands into festivities at inauguration
By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - President-elect Barack Obama decided not to sign corporate sponsors to help pay the projected $40 million cost of the official events around the Jan. 20 swearing in. So many marketers are working other avenues to get their brands before the millions of people who will attend the festivities or watch on TV. Among them are such well-known names as Pepsi, Ikea, T.G.I. Friday's and Dunkin' Donuts. From the airwaves to the streets of Washington, D.C., big-name marketers are trying to find ways to ride Inauguration Day enthusiasm.
"Wherever there is an opportunity to put your brand in a good light, especially at an event as important as this, it's good," says Walt Guarino, professor of advertising at Seton Hall University. "Right now (Obama) is being regarded as the hopeful answer to a lot of problems that we're facing. To be identified with him right now is a good thing."
Marketers, however, must toe a line, he says. "If it's done well and done tastefully and people understand there's a reason, whether it's to complement the event, have fun or add spirit, then it's the right thing. The minute it crosses that line of good taste … people will read into it negatively."
That's why Honest Tea is trying to show restraint. The brand struck marketing gold when Obama was seen drinking its Black Forest Berry tea on the campaign trail. A small number of custom bottles, renamed "Barack Forest Berry" and graced with a picture of Obama on the label, are going out to the media.
The company also will give out samples in Washington at 20 inaugural events and on streets and at transit stations next week. Around the neck of the 20,000 plastic bottles will be promotional placards about America's opportunities, whether running for the "highest office" or "starting a beverage company."
"We appreciate the relationship, and it's a meaningful relationship, and we don't want to cheapen it in any way," says Jesse Merrill, Honest Tea director of marketing. "The main point is to celebrate democracy."
Other marketers trying to have a little inauguration buzz rub off on them:
-Ikea. On Monday, the home goods retailer unveiled its version of the Oval Office inside Washington's grand Union Station. The 20-by-25-foot structure re-creates the room in the White House, but it is furnished with Ikea merchandise. Ikea boxes and furniture also are shown on top of SUVs and a limo to make it look as if the new first family is moving in with its products.
A website, embracechange09.com, lets people decorate their own Oval Office and D.C. billboard, and transit ads tout "Embrace change" and "Fiscally responsible home furnishings for all."
"We felt there was a connection with the country's interest in becoming more fiscally responsible in our business practices and finance," says Leontyne Green, regional marketing manager. "Ikea represents fiscal responsibility as well."
-Pepsi. On Friday, Pepsi crews will hit the streets of D.C with product samples, as well as scarves, hats and buttons that read "Hope" and "Change." Ads with the new Pepsi logo appear in outdoor ads with such Obama-isms as "Yes, you can."
New Pepsi ads will air in pre-inaugural coverage on networks such as CNN beginning Jan. 18.
"This is a unique moment," says Frank Cooper, vice president, portfolio brands. "There are very few times when people of various backgrounds and affiliations come together with a common sense of purpose."
-Dunkin' Donuts. Red-white-and-blue-sprinkled "Stars & Stripes" doughnuts will be sold in the chain's stores nationwide from Jan. 17 through Jan. 23 for 89 cents. The brand's blogger, Dunkin' Dave, also will tout the doughnuts on social-networking site Twitter.
"There's a hope and energy that will be created with the inauguration and new administration coming in," says Will Kussell, president and chief brand officer. "You're going to see us be a little more topical and put more variety in our doughnut line in 2009."
-QVC. The TV shopping network has paid a fee to broadcast live on Inauguration Night from a glitzy ball hosted by The Creative Coalition, a political advocacy group founded by TV star Alec Baldwin, and sponsored by Pepsi.
QVC will sell such collectibles as Barack Obama and Martin Luther King commemorative coin sets ($20), a presidential pocket watch ($90) and a portfolio ($100) to hold newspapers with Inauguration Day coverage.