Social Media Edge Out Campaign Merchandise as the Season’s Must-Have



The Museum at FIT turned into a polling station for Election Day. Photo: Claire Stern.

For this year’s election, Kanesha Braxton never wore an Obama T-shirt.

“If you voice your opinion out loud, sometimes you’re ridiculed,” she said.

Braxton, a 19-year-old student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said she’d much rather hide behind her computer screen and voice her political opinions on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

“Technology has improved,” Braxton said. “Now it’s more [about] getting your opinion and fashion appeal through your status or your tweet or your picture.”

In what is perhaps a consequence of the rapidly changing digital landscape, social media have had an overwhelming effect on the country’s young voters, replacing for many fashion-conscious students the wearing of campaign merchandise as an effective means of political expression. With one quarter of the population new to voting age, certain fashion brands sought to encourage voter registration through seamless mobile tactics.

What merchandise there is has often been revamped. American clothing designer Kenneth Cole designed a limited-edition tote bag to support Rock the Vote, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise the political awareness of young people, but, in a nod to the power of social media, each bag comes with a detachable button with a QR code that leads to a voter registration page. The bag is available at all Kenneth Cole store locations as well as on, and each Kenneth Cole storefront features decals with the same QR code.

The store windows at Kenneth Cole feature decals with unique QR codes that shoppers can scan with their smartphones to register to vote. Photo: Claire Stern.

“We saw a huge need to bring awareness to the cause and make sure that people had the tools they needed to stay informed,” said a public affairs representative for Kenneth Cole.

According to Rock the Vote, six million people did not register to vote in 2008, when social media outlets were far less prevalent.

Michelle McCormack, creative consultant and owner of LoveTheCool, a fashion and lifestyle blog, says she has not noticed as much campaign merchandise for this election, but she has noticed a different—and digital—way that people are getting their election news.

“Many people aren’t even consuming news, they’re just consuming tweets and Facebook updates from their friends,” she said.

Bea Bueno, a 19-year-old communication design student at FIT, thinks there is less merchandise campaigning for Obama because he already thoroughly branded himself in 2008.

“Seeing that same color, that same posterized image, it would be repetitive for us,” Bueno said. “We already know that image.”

Her classmate, Alexandra Mauro, added, “People are looking for the next thing.”