L'Affaire Etch-A-Sketch

When a chief political advisor to Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney commented that his campaign would essentially reset after the primaries, the advisor used the image of shaking an Etch-a-Sketch as his metaphor. For any brand inserted into territory it would normally avoid like the plague, Etch-a-Sketch had a dilemma as it faced one of three choices:

1.  Say and do nothing, and wait for the story to go away.

2.  Object to the use of the Etch-a-Sketch brand in such contexts, and publicly reinforce its core brand values.

3.  Seize an opportunity to turn a potential lemon into lemonade.

Happily, the folks at Etch-a-Sketch chose the last option. The maker of the old-timey picture-drawing game, which predates by more than 100 years the recent mobile game phenomenon Draw Something, has released a series of very clever ads in which the company states its pride in being part of the national conversation while carefully avoiding taking sides.

One ad point outs that the Etch-a-Sketch has a “left knob and a right knob” -- and when both work together, you can do some amazing loop-de-loops.  Another points out that, like an Etch-a-Sketch, politics is filled with a lot of gray area.  Clever stuff -- and a terrific way to extend a meme in a way that’s very positive for the brand, and which has juiced search volume for the company’s branded terms.

The company also updated its website to take advantage of the new, free publicity.  Leading with the headline “Shake It Up, America -- Exercise Your Freedom of Self-Expression,” Etch-a-Sketch milks its moment in the sun for all it’s worth. The site provides links to the company’s Twitter account, Facebook Page, shopping options and -- importantly -- a call to action to register to vote.

While the campaign is very tongue-in-cheek in tone, it also takes pains to highlight the importance of elections and the obligation of every citizen to participate. It’s pitch-perfect and a great way to use content marketing, search, social and traditional advertising to reinvigorate a brand that’s as old as the Grand Old Party itself.

What the ads will mean for Romney -- who is only now wrapping up a bruising and costly primary campaign -- remains to be seen. As of last week, Romney campaign PPC ads were still running for keywords like “Romney etch-a-sketch”; those now appear to have been pulled. A number of pundits have argued that the Etch-a-Sketch metaphor may end up sticking to the candidate and do real harm to his electoral chances.

And consider this usage of “Etch-a-Sketch” in the opening paragraph of a recent post on TalkingPointsMemo: “Voters are tuning in to the presidential race much earlier than usual, giving Mitt Romney much less leeway to pull an ‘Etch A Sketch’ and reinvent himself in the general election.”

It may be that “Etch-a-Sketch” has entered the vernacular in a way the brand never could have imaged, and will stay for good. That could be great for the company’s brand reinvigoration effort. However, if l’affaire Etch-a-Sketch stretches all the way to November, it would be very bad for the candidate.

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