'Yes Pecan': Companies Tap Obamamania For Ads Companies such as Ben & Jerry's and Pepsi are applying the rhetoric of hope and change to their own products. Also, President Obama's image is appearing on everything from Chia pets to bars of soap. How do you feel about the use of the president's image and message for marketing?
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'Yes Pecan': Companies Tap Obamamania For Ads

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'Yes Pecan': Companies Tap Obamamania For Ads

'Yes Pecan': Companies Tap Obamamania For Ads

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LYNN NEARY, host:

Slogans like "Yes, We Can" won president Obama the election. But you haven't heard the last of them. Ben and Jerry's is marketing a new flavor of ice cream called Yes, Pecan. Ooh, that hurts. Companies like Ben and Jerry's, IKEA, Pepsi and many others are all hoping to cash in on the popularity of the new president. And that means his image is showing up on everything from Chia pets to soap bars.

Are products bearing the president's image or messages selling in stores where you live? How do you feel about it? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site, go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. And joining us now from a studio in Dallas is Salah Boukadoum. He is the co-founder of MyObamaBar.com, which markets its products with the slogan - wait for this now - the audacity of soap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: All right. Welcome to the show, Salah. Good to have you with us.

Mr. SALAH BOUKADOUM (Co-founder, MyObamaBar.com): Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: So, I'm presuming that you were selling soap before, and then came up with this wonderful slogan afterwards or maybe not. How did this all come together?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: Well, you're right. We h-ve been selling all-natural soap products for actually just a few months. And when somebody on our team came up with the slogan, the audacity of soap, we knew we had to make an Obama bar product.

NEARY: Now wait. Did it start out kind of as a joke or were you pretty serious about it right from the start?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: It did start out as a joke, and we bantered about it for probably over a month before we actually got serious about making a product. But now, we're very glad that we did.

NEARY: So, does this just look like any old soap bar, or is there something especial about it?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: No. I think there's a lot of special things about the soap. First of all, it's a really high-quality product. It's 100-percent natural, and they come eight really beautiful aromas. And they look really great. But also, we're trying to stay true to Obama's message, so we have a lot of charitable component to our company. We give 25 percent of the profits from Obama bar to the Yellow Ribbon fund there in Washington, D.C. And we also give a free bar of soap to anyone who places an order, if they will volunteer for one of Obama's initiatives.

NEARY: Well, that's great. Do they look different, the bars of soap? I mean, do they have his picture on it or something, or is it just the slogan that's really - connects it to Obama?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: No. It does have a hand-drawn likeness of Obama's face on the front, and it's of course, red, white and blue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And every bar has its own special name and its own special slogan that relates somehow to Obama's campaign or presidency. Some of them are pretty tame and cute, like Lemongrass-roots Support for our lemongrass bar. And some of them are maybe a little bit provocative. We have one that says, cleans lipstick off a pig.

NEARY: Oh, wow. OK. And what kind of reaction have you had so far to this?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: People love these bars. We've gotten orders from almost all 50 states. And I think it's not just the Obama appeal but the bars themselves. If you see them and smell them, you really can't miss the experience. When you walk in to a room that has Obama bars in it, the whole place smells great.

NEARY: All right. I'm going to take one call. We've got Julie from San Jose on the line. Hi Julie. You there?

JULIE (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Hi. Go ahead.

JULIE: Yeah, I've seen the soap bars. They're great. And I've also seen a myriad of T-shirts, and I just think it reflects, you know, such a wonderful, hopeful time. And I'm really, you know - I know that some people might think that it's egregious or materialistic, but I think just - it's great that there's so much enthusiasm, that there are so many people in the country that are excited about his presidency and excited about politics again. I think it's great, personally.

NEARY: Now, would you actually use this soap as soap, or would you just kind of buy it as a souvenir, if you were going to buy it?

JULIE: I'd probably buy it as a souvenir and display it, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Which is what people are doing with most of the stuff. Thanks so much for calling in, Julie.

JULIE: Sure. Bye-bye.

NEARY: What do you think - are people buying it for really - to use it as soap or you think this is just for display, Salah?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: I think most of the purchases that we've had have been for gifts. They make an awesome gift, and they come in little different gift packs. But I also think that some people - I know for sure some people have re-ordered from the site because they love the quality of the soap so much.

NEARY: All right. And have you gotten any negative reaction?

Mr. BOUKADOUM: Not really. We've gotten some interesting comments on our Web site before the election from people who were big McCain supporters, although in the end, our biggest purchase ever was from a staunch Republican who bought them for all of his family and friends as a little joke.

NEARY: OK. Well, thanks so much for being with us today.

Mr. BOUKADOUM: Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: Salah Boukadoum joined us from a studio in Dallas. He's a co-founder of MyObamaBar.com, which sells soap bars bearing the image of President Obama. And joining us now in studio 3A is reporter Tamara Keith. She reported on these projects for Morning Edition earlier this month, so we thought we'd ask her here to chat a little bit more about it. Good to have you with us, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH: Glad to be here.

NEARY: So, what are some of your favorite Obama-inspired products?

KEITH: Well, my new favorite is the Chia in Chief or Hail to the Chia. I'm (laughing) not - I'm not sure what they're going for. But it's a Chia pet. There's the serious Obama head, and then there's the happy Obama head. It comes with a packet of seeds. You spread it on, water it and ch-ch-ch-chia. It grows hair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEITH: Though he has a really short haircut, so I'm not sure exactly - I don't think it looks...

NEARY: Why they came up with that one.

KEITH: Yeah. And I've had a Chia head before that was not a presidential Chia head, and I thought it was just sort of creepy. But, it's out there. One thing I found sort of odd was the commemorative bottles of Hennessey in honor of the 44th president - bottles of cognac with a golden seal.

NEARY: And is he a cognac drinker? Do we know?

KEITH: I have no idea.

NEARY: Yeah. But there is a coffee, and that's kind of an interesting...

KEITH: Yes.

NEARY: Product because it tells you something about him, right?

KEITH: Exactly. It's the Barack-O-blend. Actually, there's another kind - that one's from Kona. There's another company that's also come up with an Obama blend. It has Hawaiian, Kenyan and Indonesian coffees, and they say, sip the story of our 44th president.

NEARY: Ah, there you go - a lot of clever people out there. And what about - come on, this Yes, Pecan ice cream. That's pretty funny. What is it exactly?

KEITH: Well, it is bipartisan roasted pecans with amber waves of buttery ice cream. It's basically butter pecan. And this is a thing that Ben and Jerry's does. You know, they've had Steven Colbert ice cream. They've had obviously the Wavy Gravy, and I think they had a Willie Nelson ice cream, too.

NEARY: Yeah. I've actually seen a chocolate Obama lollipop and I - have you seen that?

KEITH: (Laughing) I haven't seen that one.

NEARY: Yeah. And I wondered if anybody would find offense with that. I didn't know. I just thought I'd throw that out there. But you haven't seen it.

KEITH: I haven't seen that one.

NEARY: So - yeah. Well, are there some other ways that people are using sort of popularity of this president in ad campaigns and - what other ways are we seeing that?

KEITH: I think that sort of the biggest one that is a little subtle - at least a little subtle - is Pepsi.

NEARY: Uh huh.

KEITH: And this is a major - a major American brand, and they came out with a new logo just as the inauguration was approaching. This logo is red, white and blue, has a swooshy thing. Many people think that it looks a lot like the Obama logo. They also used that logo in various signs and ads that said things like hope and optimism and yes, you can, with the "o" being replaced by that logo. But, you know, we asked the callers. I mean, people are all over the map on this. Some people think that Obama copied the Pepsi logo and that this is - you know, people are pretty animated about this.

NEARY: Yeah, because the logo does look very similar to the Obama logo, I have to say.

KEITH: But then if you go back and look at the old Pepsi logo, it looks a lot like the Obama logo, too.

NEARY: I see. Now - so is this - do you think this is all just sort of inauguration-related? This is going to sort of fade away, you know as the inauguration fades away?

KEITH: Well, I think some of the - you know, the soap, the Chia - some of those things will probably go away. Certainly Pepsi has invested a lot into this campaign, and Pepsi isn't planning to go anywhere with it anytime soon. I think that - what they say is that they're not capturing - you know, they're not copying Obama. They're capturing the mood of the nation in the same way that he captured the mood of the nation.

NEARY: Yeah.

KEITH: And that there is this desire out there for hope and optimism, and why not sell a bubbly drink with it?

NEARY: Especially - especially, we're getting one day after another of terrible, terrible economic news. We're in this terrible recession. So, people just want to kind of have fun with it.

KEITH: That's the theory.

NEARY: Did you talk to anybody that found this offensive or you know, just thought this is demeaning the office of the presidency or anything like that?

KEITH: Well, there is one new item that is generating some controversy, and that is that the Beanie Baby makers - the Ty company - has come out with two African-American girl dolls in their Ty Girls brand that are called Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia. And the first lady has lashed out against that, because she feels like, you know, they're just copying these little girls and using them to sell dolls. The company claims that they just thought those were great names.

NEARY: Yeah. Well, do you believe that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEITH: I'm not here to judge.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: That's kind of coincidental, don't you think? And yeah, the White House is not very happy about those dolls.

KEITH: No.

NEARY: Because they want to protect the privacy of the children, understandably, and I wonder how they're going to react in general to some of this - the stuff that's out there. I mean, so far, there hasn't been any reaction except for to the...

KEITH: To the girl dolls. But you know, certainly there have been a lot of people out there speculating about, you know, what about the rest of America who didn't vote for President Obama? How are they going to feel about this Pepsi thing? Which is why I think a lot of the brands are being a little on the subtle side or at least trying to be.

NEARY: All right, let's take a call now from Liz. She's calling from Portland, Oregon. Hi, Liz.

LIZ (Caller): Hello.

NEARY: Hi. Go ahead.

LIZ: I work at Baskin-Robbins. On election night, well, we had flavors for the Republican party and the Democrat party. We tallied votes, or scoops purchased.

NEARY: Oh, you did.

LIZ: The flavor for the Democrat party was called The Whirl of Change, and it won.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: The Whirl of Change. What was the McCain ice cream?

LIZ: The McCain ice cream was called Straight Talk Crunch. It had candy red states. It was sort of a chocolate chip ice cream.

NEARY: Wow. Apart from the politics of it, could you tell us which one you though actually tasted better?

LIZ: Definitely, The Whirl of Change. We now call it Peanut Brittle Caramel Crunch. It's vanilla ice cream with caramel and chocolate-covered peanut brittle, and it's pretty good.

NEARY: Ah, so.

LIZ: The candy red states - every one of them was Utah and just kind of fell apart in your mouth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Why didn't you - why didn't - do you know why they didn't keep it on as a product that was associated with the new president, gave it a name associated with Obama?

LIZ: Well, this isn't the first time this flavor has changed names. First it was called History in the Mixing, then it was called The Whirl of Change. Now, Peanut Brittle Caramel Crunch is a mouthful, we just called it Obama, but we do get people in here who are - who did not vote for Obama. We give the libertarians vanilla just to shut them up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIZ: Yeah, we get a lot - this is Oregon; there's a lot of crazy people here. Some of them didn't vote, but they're not offended as long as we tell them, oh, no, we had a flavor for McCain, too.

NEARY: (Laughing) OK. Well, Liz...

LIZ: But the flavor for McCain is not on the floor right now, just then.

NEARY: Great. Thanks so much for calling, Liz.

LIZ: Thank you.

NEARY: And I just want to remind you that you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We're going to go to Maggie. She's calling from Ashland, Oregon. Hi, Maggie.

MAGGIE (Caller): Hi, yeah I'm at the other end of the state, at the south end, right above California.

NEARY: (Laughing) Great.

MAGGIE: There's a lot of crazy people down here. But I have this absolutely fantastic front page of the L.A. Times - the picture from November 5th and the headline that says "It's Obama." And it was made into about an 11-by-11 tote by laminating the actual newspaper. And everywhere I carry it people say, oh my god, where did you get that cool purse? So, I have to tell them that I just bought it in Ashland.

NEARY: Oh, you can't tell them that you made it yourself? (Laughing)

MAGGIE: No, I didn't, I didn't. It was made by a company in L.A., actually.

NEARY: Oh, that's great.

MAGGIE: Yeah, yeah. It's really - it's super, so I have them close to my heart all the time when I'm out shopping.

NEARY: So, you just like carrying it around because you just want to reflect how you feel about the - about what's...

MAGGIE: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, many of my daily reflections revolve around the Obamas and the whole miracle of his being elected and hopefully the changes that are going to come along that are going to be somewhat miraculous in themselves.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for calling in Maggie.

MAGGIE: Thank you.

NEARY: All right, great. We're going to go now to South Carolina. We're going to talk with Brian, and he is in York, South Carolina. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: Go ahead.

BRIAN: Well, you know, this one occurred to me just a couple minutes ago. The craziest thing I have seen is - I have a friend who works in retail and she - her store got in - what's the radio daytime way of saying it? - an Obama personal massager.

NEARY: OK. (Laughing)

BRIAN: That is hands-down the craziest thing I have seen through this election cycle.

NEARY: Yeah, I guess so.

BRIAN: Yeah. And, you know, when it comes to products that are being released, as long as the first family is OK with it and they're not bringing a serious complaint against it, you know, public figures - I think it's fair game. I agree with the first lady on the Sasha and Malia dolls though.

NEARY: Yeah. All right, well, thanks so much for calling in, Brian.

BRIAN: Thanks for having me. Have a great day.

NEARY: OK. Tamara, do you have any idea if there's been anything like this in past presidencies, where there's been this much sort of product placement (Laughing) around the president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEITH: Well, I do know that some advertisers picked up on some of the themes that Ronald Reagan had in his campaigns, but I think this is pretty much above and beyond in the marketing department. The Metro here - the underground subway system here in Washington - created special commemorative cards…

NEARY: Yeah.

KEITH: Metro cards. They didn't do that for President Bush. They - apparently they said there just wasn't enough interest in that inauguration, but they did do it for Clinton and for the Pope.

NEARY: (Laughing) And for the Pope. OK. Let's go take one more call if we can. Lonnie? Go ahead, Lonnie.

LONNIE (Caller): Hi. I just want to comment that I have a Barack Obama action figure.

NEARY: Oh, what does it look like? How does he an action figure?

LONNIE: Like, he - it's just basically a plastic figurine of Barack Obama. The waist twists, the arms move and the head twists, and that nobody that I've showed it to has not liked it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LONNIE: Everybody loves him.

NEARY: Now, what is he wearing?

LONNIE: He's just in a black suit, blue tie, white collar - classic Obama garb.

NEARY: Oh, OK. So, he's dressed in a suit, but he's an action figure.

LONNIE: Yeah.

KEITH: Does he have like a special veto pen?

LONNIE: No pens, just regular…

NEARY: Lonnie, do you actually play with this action figure?

LONNIE: Yes, actually.

NEARY: You do. What do you do? Do you put him down behind a desk or something? (Laughing)

LONNIE: Well, usually I do photo ops. I see how much I can get it to look like he's working or something.

NEARY: Oh, OK. All right, well that's great. That's interesting to know. All right, thanks so much, and I have one other question. Do any of your friends have one and have you ever, like, played with the two of them together?

LONNIE: None of my friends have one, although at that time that I got it, there was a McCain action figure, too.

NEARY: Oh, so you could have really put them to work, I guess. (Laughing).

LONNIE: Yeah.

NEARY: All right, thanks so much.

LONNIE: OK. Thank you.

NEARY: And just to close out, I have an email here from Sherry in Buffalo. Chocolatier Dan Johnson, owner of Choco-Logo Confectionary Design, created Waves o' Change chocolate bark. It features milk, white and dark chocolate harmonizing with homemade honey caramel and dappled in organic sea salt. And that sounds like it would taste pretty good, too.

(Soundbite of laughter).

NEARY: And that is it for today. Tamara Keith, so good to have you with us on Talk of the Nation.

KEITH: Glad to be here.

NEARY: And I'm Lynn Neary. You've been listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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