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Support the party? Buy the T-shirt

Not all political groups have been as successful as Podemos in leveraging their brands

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias wearing a T-shirt with the party logo.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias wearing a T-shirt with the party logo.

In the wake of its surprisingly strong performance at last year’s European polls, and in preparation for general elections scheduled for later this year, Podemos, Spain’s newest political party, has begun building a brand image.

The first step was to choose a color — no easy task in a country where just about every hue from red to blue has already been taken. “All that was really free was yellow and purple, which looks nicer,” says Sarah Bianzobas, the 29-year-old now largely responsible for most of Podemos’s marketing effort.

Product sales now provide 6.9 percent of party funding: around €73,000 worth of T-shirts, mugs, pens, and shopping bags.

“We looked closely at other successful election campaigns, such as Obama’s,” says Bianzobas, explaining that the US president sold four times as much merchandise as his rivals during the 2008 campaign, raising almost €30 million.

Fundraising in figures

P. L. / C. P. L.

- Podemos raises 6.9 percent of its funding, or around €73,000, from merchandise sales.

-The pro-independence Catalan National Assembly (ANC) sold 100,000 of its sovereignty kits, raising €1.5 million.

- The Socialist Party says it sells “thousands” of mugs, pens, and other branded items each year, but has no figures on the amount of money it raises this way.

- The PP closed down its political merchandise website in 2007, but distributes T-shirts and other products at meetings.

- The United Left coalition only sells products related to specific campaigns, and raises around €6,000 a year. UPyD sold €3,000 worth of items for a single campaign.

The effort was a crucial part of the Democratic Party’s success, according to Meaghan Burdick, the Obama campaign’s director of marketing and merchandise.

A majority of Spaniards see unemployment, corruption, the economy and political parties as their country’s biggest problems, according to a recent poll by the Center for Sociology Research (CIS).

This goes some way to explaining why the country’s parties face a funding crisis.

“Wearing a garment or using something with a logo means that you like the brand in question,” says Luis Acebes, an advertising consultant who worked for the conservative Popular Party (PP) during the 2000 campaign, and then for the Socialist Party in 2004.

He also worked with Union, Progress & Democracy (UPyD), founded in 2007 by Socialist Party renegade Rosa Díez, whose centrist grouping opposes Catalan and Basque nationalism, and supports a voting system based on proportional representation. Its logo is set against a vivid pink background.

The party campaigned on an anti-corruption platform in 2008, and Acebes says that UPyD considered giving away pink dust cloths outside Congress to symbolize the need for a clean-up: “But we didn’t have enough money, and we never really thought about selling dust cloths with our logo on them to raise money.”

But UPyD subsequently decided to start selling small badges with the words Yo denuncié a Bankia (I reported Bankia), a reference to an ongoing judicial inquiry into financial mismanagement at the lender that resulted from the merger of Caja Madrid and six other savings banks.

Wearing a garment or using something with a logo means that you like the brand in question”

Luis Acebes, political advisor

Kent Cooper, co-editor of Political Moneyline, a website that provides information on US campaign donations, says that while most people wouldn’t consider donating money to a political party, they are quite likely to buy a sticker, pen, or T-shirt. This is something that Podemos has realized and exploited.

“Back in April, just before the European elections, we looked at possible sources of financing, and decided to try to sell political merchandise,” says party official Jorge del Rey. “That first month wasn’t very good, but within days of the elections things started to pick up. We now sell online, as well as having a stand at all our meetings.”

Rana Reeves, co-founder of UK-based John Doe Communications, says the idea of buying something rather than simply donating money “connects with young people. The younger generations understand consumerism: they want something in return for their money.”

Spain’s governing Popular Party, immersed in scandals, and with its popularity trailing after four years of austerity cuts, no longer bothers with political merchandise. But the opposition Socialist Party continues to make some money from mugs, ballpoint pens, fans, and even manages to shift around 20 busts of the party’s founder, Pablo Iglesias (no relation to the Podemos leader), every year.

A fan on sale at the Socialist Party’s online store.
A fan on sale at the Socialist Party’s online store.

The Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civilian association campaigning for independence for the region, has used a wide range of merchandising gear to promote its cause. “Merchandise sales have worked really well for us, and make up around a third of our revenue,” says the organization’s Joan Serra. The ANC says it has sold more than 100,000 of its independence kits, which consist of a backpack, T-shirt, badge and DVD. Sales of the €15 kit brought in around €1.5 million.

The United Left coalition says it produces merchandising gear to back specific campaigns, such as its No fracking way-inspired T-shirts to protest proposals to introduce this controversial method of gas extraction to Spain.

All of which leaves Podemos way ahead of the pack when it comes to leveraging its brand to raise funds. “The new political activism is about getting people passionate about a brand both to raise awareness as well as to make money,” says Acebes.