Pizza Hut, JetBlue try election gimmicks

Marketers cash in on election spin

There’s a brand new spin whirring around the elections, but this time it’s not coming from the candidates. It’s coming from public relation-hungry marketers.

Several top consumer brands – including Pizza Hut, JetBlue and Cabbage Patch Kids – are dangling PR stunts that are election-themed and consumer-engaging. To attract eyeballs, they’re also wacky.

“The media loves stunts,” says PR guru Ronn Torossian. “If you want to clear the clutter, well-timed, creative stunts can make headlines.”

Or, they can implode – particularly around elections. “Emotions run very high,” warns brand consultant Tracey Riese. “Being identified with one side or another will alienate half your audience.”

Here’s the PR lineup:

Free pizza for life. Pizza Hut on Tuesday will announce plans to give free pizza “for life” to any consumer who asks President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney if they prefer sausage or pepperoni pizza during the Oct. 16 Town Hall debate. (That means a $520 gift card every year for up to 30 years.)

Yes, debate questions are pre-screened, but Pizza Hut hopes someone will ask it, anyway.

The choice of sausage or pepperoni is irrelevant, notes marketing chief Kurt Kane, since with Pizza Hut’s Dinner Box promo, you can get both and breadsticks and one side dish for $19.99.

“Neither candidate has clarified their message,” Kane said. “For a brand like us that knows what we’re about, it’s an opportunity to get the message out.”

Free trip out of the country. JetBlue is promising “Election Protection” to about 1,000 disappointed voters whose candidates lose – with a chance to win a free flight out of the country (and back) the day after the election. “We decided to give people a chance to follow through on their claim to skip town if their candidate comes up short,” said Marty St. George, senior vice president of marketing.

Cabbage Patch candidates: Cabbage Patch Kids maker JAKKS Pacific will be auctioning on eBay, via a fundraiser for Rock the Vote, a line of dolls that look like the two candidates – and their vice presidents. (There’s also a Michelle Obama doll.)

“We’re part of pop culture,” explains Jennifer Caveza, senior vice president of marketing. “Attaching the brand to the election is a way to reinforce its relevance.”

But value is in the eye of the beholder. In a similar fundraiser in 2008, the Obama doll went for $8,400, but the Sarah Palin doll pulled in a cool $19,000.