The Obama phenomenon: His personal economic stimulus package
President-elect Barack Obama has made somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 major promises to move America ahead and out of its deepening slump. He has assembled an A-list Economic Advisory Team, several new/old Economic Cabinet members, floated an assertive new stimulus package of huge highway-road construction and a broad slew of infrastructure jobs, and he has aggressively pushed for help for the Big Three American automakers, all before he has been sworn in (and before the December 15th date of the certification of the electoral college votes).
He has already become, long before his first 100 days, a “polebrity” or political celebrity, and all things Obama have hit the marketplace as a retailer’s dream. He is about to become the most marketed, well branded president-elect in the history of the country, even surpassing John F. Kennedy’s pizzazz. Already estimates are that the Obama image, whether in newspapers, posters, cups, ice chests, watches, bobble-head dolls, ear rings, and the like, has sold over $450 million in items in America. Outside of this country (and nobody has a real estimate of that boom yet), that number is expected to be much, much more. I personally know two enterprising young people who sent over 800 Obama buttons and pins to the Caribbean and made over $10,000. Coming up to and immediately after the inauguration on January 20th, estimates are that Obamabilia will be responsible for well over $1 billion in retail sales in this country.
Mr. Obama and his family have not received any of this money, from all reports, and the Obama campaign and transition teams have consistently told those who asked that there is no copyright infringement on the use of Mr. Obama’s face or that of his family, as long as the use is appropriate. Thus, mom-and-pop entrepreneurs through Wall Street listed corporations are all participating in the retail feeding frenzy. Leimert Park’s own Zambezi Square, a popular shop for off-beat and custom Africentric items, for example, recently revamped its look so that more than one-half of its retail products are Obama-related, from large, brightly colored wall murals featuring Obama, Shirley Chisolm, and other Black historical figures, to buttons, rings, ball point pens, book dividers, and a wide variety of creative Obama tee-shirts. And the stuff is definitely selling right out the door.
In fact, the Obama phenomenon in the marketplace is a primary reason a significant number of Black entrepreneurs will not starve or be driven out of business this holiday season. The president-elect did not promise us a ‘chicken in every pot,’ but he is certainly delivering an Obama poster in every window. There will be many, many presents under the tree this Christmas with an Obama-theme and/or smiling picture. We ain’t mad at him.
Just to quickly look at some of the real numbers: the New York Times reported that the Tribune Company’s Los Angeles Times sold over $700,000 in Obama products to date, including its commemorative issue of the Obama victory. The New York Times has sold between $1 and $2 million in Obama merchandise and has devoted a large part of its online store to Obama retail items. They are selling briskly. People Magazine sold over 2 million newsstand copies of its November 17th special Obama election issue at $4 per copy, and rang up over $8 million, not counting the subscription issues. Usually, People doesn’t sell over 1.5 million at the newsstands. Time magazine also went over the top in its sales of the November 17th issue, and in addition did a hardcover book, “President Obama: The Path to the White House,” selling for $19.95, with a softcover for $12.95. The sales have thus far been enormous, and the initial printing of 550,000 is already virtually gone. Life, Newsweek, U.S.A. Today, and even the Walt Disney Company, are all offering their own Obama books and merchandise. Hewlett-Packard is doing e-cards and commemorative photos, and the collectibles industry has seized the day to begin printing all varieties of 24 and 22-karat coins, porcelain plates with gold-trim, and the big gold Obama Change and Hope medallions.
In Los Angeles, it is estimated that street vendors, curio shops, pharmacies, yard sales and the famous Crenshaw hawkers have sold over $1.5 million in Obama gear and merchandise since September, mainly tee-shirts. The Obama retail phenomenon thus seems to be a classless entity-that is, the poor, the middle class and the wealthy all are getting a piece of history and a piece of the take: their talisman for the great moment.
If he does not one more thing in the immediate future, Barack Obama has certainly brought America together already-at least the retail side-into agreement and cooperative economics on one issue, the selling of the Obama image. Now, if we can just bottle that unity for later……
-David Horne, Ph.D. is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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