With 130,000 small donor donations required to enter the second set of debates, some candidates are struggling to encourage folks to get on board with their campaign and donate. They send email after email, but it seems like they’re all fishing for dollars in the same small pond. Maybe it’s time for these campaigns to stop thinking about the small dollar fundraising threshold like a candidate, and start thinking of it like a transaction where donations are rewarded with carefully curated branded products.

Impulse buyers should be a candidate’s new best friend— yet, campaigns haven’t caught on, and that’s a big miss because consumers use brands to display how they identify as person. Take a look at Donald Trump’s campaign, which has sold out of overpriced, Trump-branded straws, selling over 140,000 of them in less than a week. 

While branded, disposable plastic straws probably won’t work for millennial leftists, young Democrats also like to publicly represent and share their candidate of choice. The number of #Resist shirts and buttons found while walking around any college campus is proof of this — and campaigns are missing out. Take a moment to browse the merch stores of every Democratic candidate, and the problem becomes evident. Merch storefronts and inventory are the redheaded stepchild of nearly every campaign.  

Nearly every Democratic campaign in the field all seem to have the same low effort and bland items for sale. Where are the campaign-branded porcelain pins, cut and sewn streetwear, tie bars, embroidered patches, or cross-stitch kits

Once you have those, where are the Instagram specific shopping ads that drive consumers directly from their app of choice to a campaign donation? They don’t exist, because campaigns either still think of themselves as above consumer brands or campaign managers are stuck in 2004. That’s not how this works anymore – young voters want something to prove that they are both on the right side of history, and in the social group that’s fighting for change. 

Even when a campaign has an unusually trendy item for sale, their website payment platform is never easy. Right now, only a few of the merch stores offer check out options other than via credit card, and this is a big no-no. The number of people who exit a purchase funnel the moment they find their credit card and type in the number on a five-inch screen is far too high, and sits at 69% for fashion

People make a lot of purchases on their phones, so campaigns should make it easy for GenZ shoppers to spend money supporting a candidate’s campaign with a mobile-optimized payout. PayPal, Venmo, or even Amazon offer one-click checkout that prevent impulse purchases from being interrupted by requiring effort. Paypal Mobile Checkout has an 88% conversion rate! FWIW, it takes some effort to connect the Paypal API to your donor database, but it is definitely worthwhile for larger campaigns with more resources.

As mentioned above, it’s time to get these “hip” and “cool” cross stitch patterns or other innovative pieces of campaign swag in front of your soon-to-be donors, and this is where Instagram shines. You’ve likely made an impulse buy via your phone, and if you haven’t, your kids have. Start keeping an eye on Instagram Story ads, see how brands advertise niche items, and get your agency to mirror it. You are a campaign, but your products are branded, so start selling items that people want. 

Young voters are going to be key in electing the next Democratic president, and while they’re burdened with student loan debt and an excessive avocado toast diet, they love to buy fun and kitschy products that inform who they are, and who they support. Make it easy for them to donate to your campaign, and make it easy and compelling for them to be a part of the 130,000 donors you need to be on the next debate stage.


Brian Young is a Media Planner at ACRONYM who started his career in consumer product digital direct response advertising.

Brian Young

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