Talk about stimulating the economy.
Employees at the Ohio Art Company in Bryan, Ohio, expected a quiet morning after their Wednesday-morning coffee. But within minutes of Mitt Romney’s spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom comparing the candidate to an Etch a Sketch, the drawing toy that makes it easy to erase an image and start all over again, the company’s phone started ringing. Some of the calls were from reporters looking for comment from the small company, suddenly getting a lot of free publicity. And others were from customers wanting to know how to get their hands on the newly coronated piece of American political merch.
“It has been an extremely hectic day for me,” Nicole Gresh, a spokesperson for the company, told The Daily Beast. “It is too early to tell, but we are hopeful to see if there is an uptake in sales given this recent exposure.”
By the end of the day, the Etch a Sketch had become Amazon’s biggest “mover and shaker,” jumping 1,200 spots in rank (it’s currently the 110th-most popular toy on the site). Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum both dispatched campaign aides to buy up the popular toy at local stores in order to hold them up at campaign events. Santorum aide Alice Stewart showed up at a Romney event Wednesday afternoon in Arbutus, Md., to distribute the toy to reporters, guaranteeing even more coverage.
Ohio Art’s marketing director, Martin Killgallon, was giddy with the exposure. “EAS has had its share of [public relations] in [the] past but nothing that has taken off so quickly in our viral world of today,” he was quoted saying in an email to Talking Points Memo. “[I]t has been fun to watch.”
More fun, certainly, than in 2000, during Ohio Art’s last major foray in the news. That’s when the company announced it was exporting production of the popular toy to China, laying off hundreds of U.S. workers. The New York Times later exposed inhumane working conditions in the factory, near Shenzhen, where the toy was being made.
Still, the company has welcomed the recent publicity but has been cautious not to embrace the political nature of the 2012 debate. Killgallon fell back onto Etch a Sketch’s two knobs—one on the right and one on the left—to make the cutesy point that the toy is for everyone, and that the company would be staying out of the political-debate business.
Yet perhaps not entirely. Over the past 20 years, Bill Killgallon, the chairman of Ohio Art (and Martin’s uncle), has donated $5,532 to political candidates, all of them Republicans, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and President George W. Bush. He hasn’t yet made any contributions during the 2012 cycle.