Free Flights If Your Candidate Loses! No Joke

Courtesy of 7-Eleven

Mitt Romney didn’t just enjoy a rebound in Gallup, Pew, and PPP polls following the first debate—he also got a six-percentage-point bounce in the “7-Election.” Haven’t heard of it? You haven’t been to your local 7-Eleven’s coffee bar lately. The convenience store chain is counting votes this year with coffee cups. Buy a red one and the cashier chalks you up as a vote for Romney; blue, President Obama.

Much like the Oscars, or the Super Bowl, presidential elections offer companies an opportunity to roll out a catchy marketing campaign and build brand awareness. 7-Eleven’s been running its 7-Election—“Every Cup Counts” is one of the tag lines—since 2000, and after three elections now prides itself on accurately predicting the winner every time. “We’re scarily close to the polls,” says Laura Gordon, vice president of brand innovation.

This year the chain is building on past campaigns by dispatching the “Mobile Oval,” a bus with a replica of the Oval Office that’s roving the country so passersby can snap photos and share them via social media. Gordon sees the campaign as a key way to connect with a younger demographic, as voters come of age. “For people who just want to have a little bit of fun with the whole election because they’re tired of the seriousness, that Mobile Oval is going to play a big role,” she adds. The chain estimates it’ll sell 6 million cups overall. (It sells 1 million coffee cups a day.)

Given the brouhaha over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s opposition to same-sex marriage earlier this year, you might think companies would pause before wading into the political fray. Marty St. George, senior vice president of marketing and commercial strategy at JetBlue, says he was skeptical when the airline first considered running an election-related promotion: “I think elections are 10 times riskier than other events, because there are so many emotions around them.”

But then the company’s ad agency came up with “Election Protection”: free round-trip tickets to leave the country for 1,006 people whose candidate loses (that’s 2,012 flight legs). St. George says he liked the “element of fun” and the fact that the campaign ties directly into an old saying (“If my guy loses, I’m leaving the country”): “It’s not like we had to create some contrived connection. It’s right in the wheelhouse of what JetBlue does every day.”

The airline is collecting votes via Facebook, though you don’t have to “like” JetBlue to enter. After Election Day, the airline will choose the winners through a standard sweepstakes. St. George says it’s a low-cost way to target new customers. Last year, he says, a “Carmageddon” campaign in California—which offered flights for less than $4 between Burbank and Long Beach on a day when the 405 freeway was closed—cost the airline only about $10,000, yet he estimates it generated $9 million to $12 million worth of media attention.

This is the first time JetBlue is giving away so many free tickets, and the offer’s proving enticing. St. George says that voters from all 50 states entered the sweepstakes on Oct. 3, the day the campaign was announced, even though JetBlue doesn’t fly from all of the states. St. George says tens of thousands of people have voted so far, and he expects the final tally to be “well into the six figures.”

So far, Romney supporters want to escape to the Bahamas if he doesn’t win; Obama fans are lining up for Costa Rica. It’s the president who’s ahead in both JetBlue’s survey and 7-Eleven’s—though, as in the real polls, the results are changing every day.

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