Toying with the Election

This presidential election is a joke — at least to Bradenton, FL-based novelty gifts cataloger Johnson Smith Co. The company’s catalogs, which include The Lighter Side Co. and Things You Never Knew Existed, sell about a dozen political novelty products, including Bush and Kerry masks, punching bags with cartoon images of the candidates blazoned across the front, and a book of “Bushisms,” offering malapropisms and grammatical errors of the current president.

While the election is an opportune time for the novelties mailer to expand its line with political gifts, the items aren’t a huge percentage of Johnson Smith Co.’s sales. The company will most likely see less than 1% of its overall 2004 sales traced back to these items, says director of marketing Kim Boyd. “This isn’t going to make or break our year.”

What’s more, the cataloger will not necessarily offer the items four years from now. “What we’ve found for the catalog is that it’s a season-to-season, totally time-driven business,” Boyd says. “What does well one year doesn’t necessarily do well four years from now because tastes change, the environment changes, and in this case, situations change.”

Like Waukesha, WI-based online costume retailer, which has noted stronger sales of its Bush Halloween mask (see Backword, p. 72), Johnson Smith is seeing Bush merchandise sell better than Kerry items. Of The Lighter Side’s presidential candidate stuffed bears — which feature a picture of the candidate on its chest; red, white and blue decorations;and the party mascot imprinted on its left foot — the Bush bear is winning in terms of sales. As of last September, Johnson Smith had sold twice as many Bush bears as Kerry bears.

Boyd, who says she does not believe you can forecast any conclusions about the outcome of the election based on the sales of the two $13.98 bears, believes that these items are doing well because they are collectibles. “I think they’re a good collectible item like the Goldwater pin or the Nixon mask. As a company, we’re not trying to pick sides,” Boyd adds. “We’re just trying to inject some fun into a stressful situation.”

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