Politics and Business Mix with a Bobblehead Twist

  • Nov 9, 2010

Though politics is on everyone's mind these days, most people try to avoid discussing it in a business situation. And though businesses may be making contributions to campaigns, you won't generally see them endorsing a candidate in their own product advertising. It takes a clever marketer to find a way to promote their brand in a political theme without alienating half of their target audience.

Back in May of 2009, Minnesota was about 200 days into a long recount of the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. (Franken eventually won by 312 votes out of 2.9 million - after a record 238-day recount.) The long process captured national attention as it wound its way through a series of court appeals. In addition to being the incumbent, Coleman was a former mayor of St. Paul, so that city was especially attuned to the saga.

The St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team saw an opportunity to capitalize on all this attention. One of their major sponsors, TDS Metrocom, a regional telephone company and internet service provider, regularly ran promotions involving gifts for fans. They felt that a promotion related to the ongoing recount would generate buzz and make a nice collector's item for the fans. While a matching pair of bobbleheads could have gotten the message across, it seemed too cumbersome to require attendees to collect multiple items, not to mention the political dynamics that would be encountered in distribution. The preliminary idea for a pair of bobblehead dolls evolved into a spinning head doll design.

With two faces looking opposite directions and a count's dramatic black cape (conveniently coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street and its beloved character, The Count), “The ReCount” doll was an instant hit when it was given out to the first 2,500 people to arrive at the Saints' stadium on May 23, before the senatorial race had been decided. People didn't wait till game time - they lined up at dawn to get their tickets. Even more important for sponsor TDS, whose brand was displayed prominently on the doll, the excitement didn't end when the game did.

Coverage of the promotion by ABC News, CNN, USA Today and several other outlets soon followed. The national attention led to plenty of free placement as local news outlets inserted the story into their programs. It was even picked up in some magazine articles, always with a picture of the doll and the TDS logo. Their marketing department reported that it was one of the best investments they had ever made.

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spinning head doll is a twist on the bobblehead concept 

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