Voting for Beer? Odd Election-Related Marketing Promotions

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What do coffee, cookies, beer, airline flights, and organic tea have to do with the upcoming presidential election? Nothing whatsoever, really. But nowadays any major event—even one that’s potentially alienating, like the 2012 elections—is viewed as a fresh opportunity for marketers to push their products.

Remember Michael Jordan‘s famous line about how “Republicans buy shoes too,” offered as an explanation for why he wouldn’t endorse a Democratic candidate years ago? His Airness may have been criticized for the bluntness of the statement, but the approach was certainly smart in the business sense. The recent Chick-fil-A controversy aside, most companies that sell to the public rarely get directly involved in politics, simply because of the risks of offending potential customers.

Wading into the especially contentious 2012 election may seem especially unwise, as one expert observer told USA Today:

“This is a tight election with massive polarization,” says Daniel Howard, marketing professor at Southern Methodist University. “This is not something I’d want to associate my brand with.”

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Nonetheless, many restaurants and retailers are running promotions related to the election, although they’re managing to do so in rather nonpartisan, noncontroversial fashion. Some examples:

7-Eleven stores are hosting a “7-Election” for the fourth presidential election in a row in 2012. This year, “voters” buying coffee in any of the convenience chain’s location can voice support for the Republicans with a red Romney cup, or endorse the Democratic ticket with a blue Obama cup of Joe. (There are also regular cups being sold to undecided voters, or to folks who don’t care or who aren’t awake enough to be bothered.) While admittedly totally unscientific, 7-Eleven’s coffee election campaign has accurately picked the winner in the last three presidential elections, according to CNN. At last check, during the 2012 coffee campaign, Obama cups were outselling Romney cups 60% to 40%.

Organic Tea
Numi Organic Tea is encouraging consumers to endorse the platform of the Organic Tea Party, which can be accomplished by liking the company on Facebook, voting for your favorite Numi tea online, or submitting a “Mug Shot” (photo of you with a tea mug) online. For each submitted photo, Numi is pledging $1 in donations to organic causes abroad. While dedicated to a “healthier, happier pesticide-free nation and planet,” the non-partisan campaign plays off of the modern-day Tea Party movement, and also includes a goofy, factually questionable “history” of “Tea’vents” that list all the roles the Organic Tea movement has supposedly had in America through the centuries, from the original actual Tea Party in 1773, to the Civil War, on through the women’s suffrage movement, Prohibition, and beyond.

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Fast Food
Boston Market’s “Market Bowl Poll” asks customers to vote “Left Wing” or “Right Wing,” which in this case equates to choosing chicken or turkey, respectively, as the main ingredient in the chain’s new Market Bowl entrees. While the chain’s buy one, get one free Market Bowl promotion was only available through mid-September, it is still collecting votes online, and on November 7, a special discounted offer will be announced for everyone who votes—for their favorite poultry dish, not necessarily for any political candidate.

Candidate Cookies
One bakery in Minnesota has been hosting a cookie poll since the Reagan/Mondale presidential race of 1984, and swears the results have always accurately predicted the winner. This year, customers can select between Obama cookies (blue frosting, on the left side of the store) or cookies that spell out “Romney” in red frosting, naturally on the right.

Sure, there are plenty of buttons and apparel for sale supporting the presidential candidates of the two major political parties. But a San Antonio blog has rounded up a bunch of T-shirts on the market that’ll voice your endorsement of other, less official candidates, ranging from Pedro (of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame) to the famously mustachioed, libertarian character Ron Swanson from TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” to Optimus Prime, the Big Lebowski, and more.

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Airline Flights
With JetBlue’s “Election Protection” poll, travelers are asked to vote Democrat or Republican in an online survey. Doing so will enter you in a contest with a chance to win a free flight to any of the 21 destinations the airline flies to outside the U.S. The contest is based on the idea that some people have been known to say things like, “If my candidate does not win, I’m leaving the country.” JetBlue will award a total of 1,006 roundtrip certificates to participants who vote in its poll, and only those whose candidate loses are eligible to win a free flight—and leave the country. At last check, JetBlue’s poll results were very similar to 7-Eleven’s coffee contest, with 59% of online voters supporting Obama. In which case, it may be wise to vote for Romney in JetBlue’s contest, whether you’re actually going to vote-vote that way in real life or not.

Hotel Packages
For $5,000 per night, guests of the Mayflower Renaissance D.C. Hotel can book the “Pick Your Party” package, which includes a one-bedroom suite decorated in Democratic- or Republican-themed style with hats, T-shirts, and whatnot that are blue or red, respectively. Champagne breakfast for two, DVDs of “The Daily Show” and “West Wing,” a limo tour of the city, and a “political swag bag” are all included as well. Let’s hope no tax money is being used to pay for any of these packages.

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Timed to coincide with the 2012 election, the Georgia-based Terrapin Beer Company is asking drinkers to vote for their favorite beverage that’s been retired—i.e., that the company no longer makes it. The beer that wins the “election” by earning the most votes by Tuesday, November 6, will be brewed again by the company and go on sale to the public in 2013. Of the 25 candidates, a pair of IPAs (Hop Shortage Ale IPA and Indiana Krunkles Wheat IPA ) led the race at last check. But the campaign season still has a long way to go.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.