I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m sure many of us were disheartened to see our beloved childhood friend, the Etch A Sketch, dragged into the unsavory world of political campaigning. Last week saw everybody’s favorite red-screened, white-knobbed drawing toy used as weapon against Republican hopeful Mit Romney. Etch A Sketch fever hit social media like a tornado on Wednesday when Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom said of his candidate’s performance during primary season, “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” This off-the-cuff comment led to Twitter silliness, moments of unexpected branding brilliance and a case study on how social media marketing interacts with today’s political campaigns.
Within moments of the comment, “Etch A Sketch” had become a top trending topic on Twitter. Much like Angelina’s leg, Mitt’s Etch A Sketch launched a Twitter account of its own. While all of this was funny and buzzworthy meme stuff, the comment itself was a PR disaster and Romney’s opponents hopped on social media almost immediately to skewer Fehrnstrom. Newt Gingrich and others were quick to use the Etch A Sketch metaphor to exploit Romney’s changing position on issues. Gingrich tweeted, “Etch A Sketch is a great toy but a losing strategy. We need a nominee w/ bold conservative solutions.”
Meanwhile, the makers of Etch A Sketch, Ohio Art Company, couldn’t have been more thrilled. Their product quickly received millions of dollars in free publicity as images of the Etch A Sketch were shot around the globe via the Internet. The company released this giddy statement about the brouhaha: “Happy to see Etch A Sketch, an American classic toy, is DRAWING attention with political candidates as a cultural icon and important piece of our society. A profound toy, highly recognized and loved by all, is now SHAKING up the national debate. Nothing is as quintessentially American as Etch A Sketch and a good old-fashioned political debate.”
News outlets were reporting toy retailers couldn’t keep Etch A Sketches in stock after the quote exploded. So score one for Ohio Art Company. And score one for social media marketing and digital PR. This silliness over a quote about an Etch A Sketch is the perfect example of how fast these channels work for and against brands of all sizes.