By Robin Miniter
Touted as the one-man stimulus package, President Barack Obama has become not only an international icon, but a marketable celebrity of epic proportions. With face has appeared on merchandise from bobble-head dolls to frocks on the catwalks of Milan, his internationally resounding promise of change has people hanging on his every word and parting with their dollars.
The year 2009 promises to give aid to the American people and fallen markets in order to regain a national sense of confidence and bring us out of the current recession. However, long before the official papers were signed and the act was passed, economists and journalists were already taking note of the way the Obama brand was creating ripples on the local economic level.
In an interview with the Salt Lake City Deseret News, James Fisher, a marketing professor at St. Louis University, said, “People are trying to purchase a piece of history — or sell it.”
A sophomore Fashion Merchandising at Marist College, Danielle Morrin noted that, “Obama is not your grandparent’s president.”
“He is hip, he is trendy,” Morrin said, noting how easily his face has become a brand icon, “Everyone wants a piece of him…around the time of the election and once again during the inauguration, sales for his memorabilia skyrocketed around the world.”
WA Today, the leading newspaper reporting from Perth & Western, Australia, reported the millions of people descending upon Washington for the inauguration from all over the world. “Many in Washington’s tourism industry are calling it the Obama bounce, booking up hotels months in advance,” the newspaper said. The National, a newspaper from the United Arab Emirates, profiled small businesses in the Washington D.C. area reaping the benefits from the frenzy.
Jim Warlick, formerly a small purveyor of capitol-related merchandise, is now in the place to retire. In the days leading up to the election, he opened a second store; closer to the date, he planned to open five more. “I’ve been in the business 28 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Warlick said. He noted the over 50,000 pro-Bush buttons and other miscellaneous merchandise he now has in storage.
Halfway across the country in Greenville, Ohio, Democratically-affiliated Tigereye Design started off with only 30 employees; at the peak of the campaign, over 500 people were employed. Though they have now dwindled to a mere 50, Justin Hemminger of Tigereye said, “The Obama merchandise put a lot of people to work in our part of Ohio.”
Though unprecedented popularity of Obama-related merchandise has created small-scale economic boost in revenue and short-term job creation, Marist College Political Science major Melissa Ryan does not think it will have profound effects on the economy.
“The fact that a lot of people are buying Obama merchandise certainly isn’t hurting the economy, but essentially I don’t think it is helping enough to have any long term effect,” she said.
As an associate producer for the Today Show, Jennifer Powell said via e-mail correspondence, “After seeing the numbers of the unemployed jump so drastically high week to week and the amount of cutbacks across the board, people are really having to look hard at what they need vs. what they want.” She comments on the appearance of Obama themed Chia pets and dog bowls: “Obama merchandise is something that definitely falls into the wants category, so it’s considered a luxury item that people are willing to go without.”
Devin Lamar, a Poughkeepsie native and local History Education major at Dutchess Community College, said, “He’s his own market. For example, people have made dolls out of his daughters. People are buying into the Obama brand – literally and figuratively. This unique following may provide a small-scale economic boost, but on the national level, he is just one man.”
Lamar did note that Obama’s new stimulus plan will be effective in jump-starting small businesses while reigning in the high rolling CEOs.
“He cannot single handedly turn the economy around with a few souvenirs,” said Lamar. “The American people are going to have to further contribute.”
The small boom is not expected to last long. Perhaps Obama’s official stimulus plan with be the “plan B” our country and wallets need.