Political Campaign Stores Raking In Not Only Cash, But A Treasure Trove Of Data For Candidates

Ted Cruz's online campaign store on left, Hillary Clinton on right.

Ted Cruz’s online campaign store on left, Hillary Clinton on right.

In an age when data is just as powerful as money, it may come as no surprise to learn that sales of political stickers, T-shirts, buttons, mugs and other merchandise emblazoned with a candidate’s brand not only go toward filling campaign coffers with money, but also provide presidential hopefuls with valuable personal data that sheds light on what kind of people/voters are out there shopping.

The New York Times has a great article on the ins and outs of political shops and online stores many candidates have been opening to garner support: From Ted Cruz to Rick Perry, Bernie Sanders to Hillary Rodham Clinton, many in the presidential race so far are shilling official merchandise.

These stores provide not only an opportunity to spread a candidate’s brand by those literally wearing their support on their sleeves, but also as donations to campaign war chests. Because candidates can’t profit personally from such sales, when you buy a pen reading I HEART SO-AND-SO, it’s not a product purchase, technically, it’s a donation, and the item you receive as a result is considered a premium.

That technicality results in a very attractive amount of data that can be further utilized by a campaign. When customers go through checkout and provide their name, email, shipping address and phone number, they’re also met with the statement, “federal law requires us to collect the following information”: employer, occupation and whether you are retired, as with any other online donation.

In the retail world, that also boils down to valuable data, as the products we choose to buy provide information about our personal preferences outside of who we’re supporting in a political race.

For example, as the NYT says:

The choice of a product can reveal whether you are a beer drinker, a sports fan or what cellphone you use. It can suggest that there are a lot of joggers headquartered in a specific region of the country, indicating that a campaign may want to direct its health communications to that state; or that you really, really, hate the other guy. It can reveal that you have a baby, or at least are close to someone who has a baby.

This means that the more products a candidate offers in their online store, the more information they can potentially get about who’s shopping and in turn, voting, and how to target communications to them. Or if you buy a lot of stuff, perhaps you’d make for a good local volunteer for the campaign.

For more about how candidates pull these operations off, check out the full NYT article. It’s worth the read, especially as we head into the 2016 race. Now we know we can expect an onslaught of political merch (delicious branded cheese, please. Just gonna put that out there for whoever wants to pick it up).

Presidential Hopefuls Sell Swag, Collect Data [New York Times]

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