Branding the Vote: The 10 most creative ways businesses encouraged voting in the 2018 Elections

This story originally appeared in the November 2018 print edition of WhoWhatWhy

This Election Day, many brands, companies, and businesses used creative ways of encouraging voter registration as a means to both increase civic duty and promote their businesses. For a long time, people might have argued that politics and business don’t mix, or worried such practices would alienate customers. Additionally, the practice of giving away free incentives to reward voting is technically illegal. As a result, businesses have to get creative in how they encourage civic participation in a legal, nonpartisan, and attention-getting way, that promotes their businesses practices. Here are the top 10 most creatives methods used by companies to do so this year.

1. Discounted and free rides from Uber and Lyft

Lack of transportation has inhibited voter participation for decades, with recent studies showing that 15% of registered voters who didn’t vote in 2016 had to do so because of transportation difficulties. Both Uber and Lyft, the two leaders of the ride-share market, found a creative way to both promote their business practices and help increase voter participation this election, by offering free and discounted rides to polling stations on Election Day. Uber, in partnership with Democracy Works and #VoteTogether, offered free rides to anyone who entered their home address, allowing Uber to locate the nearing voting place and offer the person a ride there. Lyft offered 50-percent-off codes to reach polling stations, while giving out free rides in more underserviced communities through groups such as Voto Latino.

2. Extra scoop of ice cream at Jeni’s

Here’s a two-for-one: get rewarded for casting your vote and support a Midwestern business chain at the same time. Jeni’s Ice Cream offered a free scoop of ice cream to anyone who brought in their voting sticker on Election Day. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream opened 15 years ago in Columbus, Ohio, and spread in popularity across the U.S. with a sleek, simple aesthetic loved by millennials. After a huge recall of Jeni’s product over possible listeria in their ice cream, it makes sense why Jeni’s would want some positive PR to put them in the news. And rewarding yourself with some ice cream after completing your civic duty is a pretty smart way to do that.

3. Frank Ocean’s merchandise giveaway

Frank Ocean, the hermit-like, mysterious crooner and Grammy-winning musician, rarely makes public comments. However, this Election Day, he posted on Tumblr that fans in Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, and Miami could take proof of voting into a select local retailer that would provide them with free Frank Ocean merchandise in exchange (a retail value of over $50, given away completely for free). What makes Frank Ocean’s strategy interesting is that he supported specific candidates while also rewarding any and all civic participation. He stationed the retailers of the free merch to be associated with certain local candidates, whom he endorsed on his Tumblr. However, you didn’t have to vote for this candidate to get rewarded. Why the generosity from Frank? “Because God Bless America,” Ocean says.

4. Shake Shack’s free fries

Shake Shack, the burger chain making waves across America, is once again offering freebies to those who vote in this election. This year, they are giving away free crinkle-cut fries to voters. Customers have two options: going in-store and sporting their “I Voted!” sticker, or using the Shake Shack mobile app with the code “ivoted” to order their fries in advance with free pick-up. In 2015, the NYC-based chain opened their Chicago location and the following year offered free vanilla custard to voters on the 2016 Election Day. So if custard wasn’t your thing back then, fries might lure you in this time around.

5. Samantha Bee’s “This is Not a Game: The Game”

Samantha Bee, host of TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, announced in May that she had plans to “game-ify” the midterm elections. Enlisting the help of some bright minds in Silicon Valley, Bee developed the mobile app “This is Not a Game: The Game.” In September, the application was released, as a interactive, politically nonpartisan way to reach non-active voters. The app provided a trivia game in which users could test their knowledge on politics and U.S. history and try to win real cash prizes. Along the way, users were shown information about how to get registered and where to vote, and sent reminders about voting up until election day. The app was a huge success, almost crashing after 50,000 mobile downloads in the first day of its release.

6. Patagonia closing stores

This year, the fashion designer Tory Burch decided to use her power to help rock the vote and promote a specific cause in the fight towards higher voter engagement. Burch teamed up with actress and activist Yada Shahidi’s youth movement Eighteen x 18 which aims to reach millennially who are eligible to vote for the first time in 2018, and encourage them to get registered to vote early. Burch released the shirts in early September for a limited run, where they were available in all Tory Burch U.S. stores and their website for $68, with all of the net proceeds benefiting Eighteen x 18. Anyone lucky enough to have gotten their hands on a t shirt is lucky, as they are no longer for sale and represent a moment in our generations political history.

7. Limited-edition T-shirt from Tory Burch

This year, the fashion designer Tory Burch decided to use her power to help rock the vote and promote a specific cause in the fight towards higher voter engagement. Burch teamed up with actress and activist Yada Shahidi’s youth movement Eighteen x 18 which aims to reach millenials who are eligible to vote for the first time in 2018, and encourage them to get registered to vote early. Burch released the shirts in early September for a limited run, where they were available in all Tory Burch U.S. stores and their website for $68, with all of the net proceeds benefiting Eighteen x 18. Anyone lucky enough to have gotten their hands on a t shirt is lucky, as they are no longer for sale and represent a moment in our generations political history.

8. Free cookie from Potbelly’s

Potbelly’s Sandwich Works is a classic restaurant chain who isn’t afraid to break some of the rules sometimes. This year, they announced for the first time that they would be giving away one free cookie per customer on election day. This can’t really be considered a tactic to increase voting, considering anyone was allowed to get a free cookie, and there was no requirement to vote or show proof of voting (Although Potbelly’s still says you should vote). Even though they aren’t rewarding voters, Potbelly’s is still using the event of Election Day as a means to get customers in the store and create positive associations with their business.

9. Elle’s Kimye-clickbait story

Although controversial, and even widely criticized, this method of encouraging voter participation is definitely creative at the least. The magazine Elle made waves on Twitter in the days leading up to the 2016 elections with a clickbait post that got the attention of many. In the tweet, which has since been deleted, Elle posted a hyperlink with the caption “Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are splitting up” and a photo of a breaking heart. Thousands of twitter users and Kimye-lovers rushed to click on the story, where they were led to a voter registration page, created by RockTheVote.com. The move was definitely unconventional, and although it was likely well-intended, infuriated many commenters who labeled the tactic as spreading fake news. Elle eventually apologized, saying: “We made a bad joke. Our passion for voter registration clouded our judgement and we are sincerely sorry.” However, I have to imagine the method worked in signing up a lot of people to vote.

10. Signing up to vote on Snapchat

Some companies might find millennials hard to reach as a demographic, but companies like Snapchat — an extremely popular social media among teenagers and young adults — have the advantage of always getting seen by those young eyes. They decided to use their voice to help young people get registered to vote. And it is estimated that over 400,000 people registered to vote using Snapchat. In late September, Snapchat posted: “If you’re 18-years-old or over and in the US, you’ll find a link to register on your User Profile page starting today. You’ll also see a video message from ‘Team Snapchat’, and fun new creative tools like nationwide Filters you can use to encourage your friends to register. Plus, don’t forget to check out Discover for Stories about the midterm elections and voter registration efforts happening across our communities!”

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