The Ohio Art Co., which manufactures Etch A Sketch, has begun marketing efforts to capitalize on the now-famous statement by a Mitt Romney aide comparing Presidential campaign strategy to that child's toy.
The publicity began on March 21 when Eric Fehrnstrom, communications director for GOP Presidential candidate Romney, was asked on CNN whether Romney's swing to the right to court conservative votes during the primaries would hurt him with moderate voters in this fall's Presidential election (assuming he became the GOP nominee). Fehrnstrom replied:
"I think he hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
Oh brother! That statement set off a firestorm because one of the major criticisms of Romney has been his "flip-flopping" on issues -- shifting from more moderate views to right wing politics -- to win votes. Fehrnstrom's remarks were like manna from heaven to Romney's opponents in the primaries, other politicians, the press, and comedians. GOP Presidential contenders Newt Gingrich (video) and Rick Santorum (video) displayed Etch A Sketches in their Romney criticism. Ron Paul ran an Etch A Sketch commercial for voters "tired of games." Stephen Colbert, star of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," made fun of Romney, his opponents, and politicians in general as being willing to say anything to get elected.
Ohio Art was thrilled with the publicity, and for a few days didn't conduct any related marketing. Despite that, sales of Etch A Sketch increased more than 1,500 percent on Amazon. The thinly-traded stock doubled and tripled. It has since fallen, but so far it's higher than before Fehrnstrom's interview.
Ohio Art Stock Price
A few days after Ferhrnstrom's remarks, Ohio Art began planning marketing tie-ins. It established the Shake It Up, America Website to promote voter registration with a link to the US Election Assistance Commission. The site has links to the company's Twitter feed and Facebook account. It also includes a link to a page listing major resellers of its products, but that page doesn't mention Etch A Sketch, except for a small graphic in the corner. The one-page Shake It Up, America site seems a rather half-hearted marketing effort.
The company has an Etch A Sketch app for the iPad, but it hasn't been updated since November 2010.
The company's main corporate Website isn't taking advantage of the publicity. It features an animation of an Etch A Sketch and links to a separate child-oriented Etch A Sketch site, but neither site displays any obvious tie-ins to Fehrnstrom's interview. The main site just links to news stories about the interview.
Shouldn't the corporate site take advantage of the publicity? How about showing the company's Twitter feeds on the site? What about video interviews with Ohio Art's CEO and senior executives discussing its effects on the company?
Ohio Art's new advertising is more imaginative than its Websites. One of the ads, which features an Etch A Sketch with a drawing of an American flag, says, "We have a left knob and a right knob for each political party. (But remember, when both work together, we can do loop de loops."
Another ad shows an Etch A Sketch with the words, "Etch A Sketch Is A Lot Like Politics There's A Lot Of Gray Area." A third ad shows just text proclaiming, "Politically, We Lean Right Down The Middle. Which Way Do You Lean?" All three ads say at the bottom, "Etch A Sketch Is Proud To Be Part Of The American Conversation."
I like those ads. The text is appropriately politically neutral, doesn't blatantly sell the product, and includes a nice tagline. Perhaps the marketing campaign will ramp up in several months when the company begins selling Etch A Sketches with a blue plastic border (in addition to its traditional red border) and a flag motif.
It's been a little more than two weeks since Fehrnstrom's interview, but I'd like to see the company produce a more "cutting edge" integrated marketing effort with additional content on "Shake It Up, America," the Ohio Art site, and the Etch A Sketch site, plus tie-ins to social networking.
— Alan Reiter is president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a marketing consulting firm for wireless data businesses in the US and abroad.