From the Editor: Where Are the Tchotchkes?

This election season is shaping up a little differently than we're accustomed to.

It occurred to me as I drove to work this morning, about 90 days out from the US presidential election, that I didn’t see a single yard sign or bumper sticker for either of the candidates. This was puzzling since I live in Ohio, a battleground state where hucksters pursue our votes with a fervor that goes several stages beyond stalking. (Around here, if you don’t like the pitch that one political telemarketer gives you while you’re trying to enjoy a Sunday dinner with your family, wait 15 minutes for the next to call.)

I finally saw my first printed political message of the day as I pulled into my office parking lot – a circular decal covering the gas cap door of the car next to mine, with the slogan “Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate.” The message pretty much nailed my view of the current political discourse while showcasing a novel new application for graphics.

Election years usually mean good things for specialty printers. With a jaw-dropping amount of cash flowing into political coffers (perhaps double the amount spent in the last presidential election), 2016 should be a break-out-the-champagne year for just about everyone in the advertising business. The website Statista estimates that $11.4 billion will be spent on advertising during the 2016 campaign. Of course, the lion’s share of that will go to broadcast media, but an estimated $1.8 billion will be spent on “other,” a grab-bag that includes bumper stickers, signage, apparel, buttons, and lots of other things that readers of this magazine produce. (And that they hopefully sell on a prepay-only basis to sloganeers. Which is not to say that campaign managers are necessarily crooked – just conveniently insolvent and inaccessible once the polls have closed.)

Why aren’t we seeing more printed political stuff? Perhaps in a year when the process of selecting the next commander-in-chief has been anything but ordinary, expectations should be tempered. Most of the political ephemera that we produce are designed to improve a candidate’s name recognition, and that’s one shortcoming this year’s contestants definitely do not have. Image issues are another story, but one that can’t be addressed in the real estate of a bumper sticker.

So, campaigners are turning instead to social media, the brave new world where everyone can be tracked, messages can be tested and tweaked indefinitely, and no one can hide – that is, until they disengage from the matrix entirely. I did that on my personal Facebook account a few weeks ago after one too many political diatribes appeared on my news feed. (The most significant lifestyle change for me has been that I’m no longer reading important news about someone sitting three feet away from me.) I wish the candidates luck in using social media to change anyone’s perceptions. It does a great job of giving us more of what it already knows we like and believe, but that tends to close minds, not open them.

I’d love to hear from those of you who were counting on a bump because of the elections. Are the orders coming in? Drop me a note and I’ll share your thoughts on our website.

Explore the rest of our August/September 2016 issue or hear more from Steve Duccilli.

View more from this Screen Printing issue