Retail Politics Comes to 2012 Web Fundraising

Talk about retail politics. Mitt Romney’s campaign is putting a new spin on campaign email, offering 15 percent off “Believe in America” themed winter caps, hoodies, and coffee tumblers. And over at BarackObama.com, supporters can get 10 percent off doggie sweaters, ball caps, and cufflinks by using the code “LoveObama” at checkout, until Valentine’s Day that is.

Like nonprofit organizations, campaigns and political groups have for years used cuddly red and blue teddy bears, or signed copies of a candidate’s latest book as incentives to donate. But this election cycle the campaign commercialism is on the verge of shameless hucksterism.

Today’s Romney email promo reads more like a J.Crew catalog pitch than a political message: “Whether you’ve been eyeing the Romney quarter-zip sweatshirt or you want a Believe in America tumbler to keep your drink warm, now you can get your favorite Romney winter gear for 15% off.” The offer requires the code Winter15 and is good till Monday.

The campaign offered a similar discount on Mitt gear around Christmas, and plans to send today’s promo to supporters who have signed up to receive text messages, too. The Romney camp also offers gear that’s customized for specific groups or locations. When the campaign tested out mobile payment system Square in Florida, it offered a “Florida Believes” shirt exclusively to event goers.

The Romney email sent today – labeled merely “Limited time – get 15% off,” features what could be considered a “lifestyle shot,” a photo of a man wearing a Romney knit cap and looking up towards the gleaming sun.

Opting for a lifestyle shot rather than a simple photo of the product may have been strategic, said Loren McDonald, VP of industry relations for email marketing firm Silverpop, who’s been tracking 2012 campaign emails. “Typically, lifestyle shots actually convert better in retail emails,” compared to product shots, he said.

The Rick Santorum for President campaign has been in on the act, recently sending out an email promoting a sweater vest, the signature sleeveless sweater worn so often by the former Pennsylvania senator that it’s become a campaign trail uniform.

The Santorum camp takes a more traditional donate-for-gift approach, though. “Perfect for demonstrating solidarity with true conservatives, this vest is a great way to show your support for Rick,” reads the Santorum website. “It’s 100% cotton, made in the USA, comes in grey, and is yours for your contribution of $100 or more. Don’t let sleeves slow you down – donate today!”

All four Republican presidential hopefuls, Romney, Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, have a shop, store, or gear section on their sites.

It’s all about fundraising, of course. The purchases are considered campaign contributions subject to the same restrictions as other donations from individuals. Check Out pages resemble donation pages, complete with fields for employment information and confirmation of U.S. citizenship.

In true e-commerce spirit, the Obama site even has an Amazon-esque feature that lists items liked by people who bought the ones in a shopping cart. For instance, people who have liked the Obama duffel bag also liked a messenger bag with the Obama for America rising sun logo.

The long-defunct Tim Pawlenty campaign used items like mugs and a hockey jersey as prizes for taking actions such as posting support for him on Facebook.

A true test of e-commerce email prowess? According to McDonald, sending out remarketing emails to people who have abandoned full shopping carts is big in the consumer email marketing world. “That would be showing real sophistication,” he said.

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