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Forget lawn signs. Kim Janey jumps into the campaign swag game

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 7/14/2021 Meghan E. Irons
Mayoral candidate and Acting Mayor Kim Janey carries a bag with a campaign ad while celebrating a campaign office opening in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. © Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff Mayoral candidate and Acting Mayor Kim Janey carries a bag with a campaign ad while celebrating a campaign office opening in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

Forget the lawn signs and window placards. Acting Mayor Kim Janey is adding new swag to this year’s race for mayor, as part of a messaging and fund-raising effort making its debut in the city.

Her campaign webstore is selling “Mayor Janey Our Mayor” T-Shirts, “Madam Mayor Kim Janey” totes, and “Mayor Janey” hats — for $30 to $34. Stickers and buttons are $5.

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“The merch is beautiful,” said Janey, sporting a purple “Mayor Janey” patch on her new mustard-colored Converse sneakers at the opening of her campaign headquarters in Jamaica Plain over the weekend. “I’m very proud of the merchandise. It’s been received well.”

Some supporters at the event also wore their own purple Mayor Janey T-Shirts, and the acting mayor, who is also seeking the mayor’s job, posted pictures on Twitter of her new sneakers. “Debuted these bad boys today! I love my Chucks!,” she wrote.

The sneakers are not for sale, but are part of the Janey brand.

Dorchester resident Cynthia Fulton, an ardent Janey supporter, said she plans to go online for “Mayor Janey” buttons and T-shirts. “I’m about to go on vacation the Vineyard and I want her name to be everywhere,” said Fulton.

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Campaign merch is standard fare in national political elections — see swag from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — but it’s a relatively new phenomenon in this old-time city, where candidates are used to giving away stickers, pins, and window placards.

“We had no swag,” said Michael Goldman, political consultant for former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who left the post after nearly eight years to serve as US labor secretary. “It was 2013, pre-swag. ... Janey is smart [to target] a universe of people who are ... proud to wear [her] stuff.

Campaign products are political donations, and can be a crucial fund-raising tool. The campaigns buy the products — mugs, cookbooks, and ski hats — and sell them. They are required to record the name and address of each donor or the total contribution with the state.

Political merch, long an on-the-trail staple, became a sensation after Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” poster of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign and, later, the signature red MAGA hats of the campaign of former president Donald Trump, according to marketing experts.

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In the Obama case, political merch became “cool,’' said Bruce Clark, a marketing professor at Northeastern University. “It was something that caught people’s eye. ... You could do political merchandising that was actually something people wanted to wear.”

The red hats of the Trump campaign also became “a symbol of who you are, what you stand for, and what group you belong to,” Clark added. “He got a lot of extra money for his campaign by selling those.”

Bruce Newman, a professor of marketing at DePaul University, said campaigns use merchandising to influence voters and send a message that resonates with the public. Plus, it’s a boon when supporters posts images of themselves on TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter holding a mug or wearing a T-shirt with images of their favorite candidate.

“The world of lawn signs and buttons, which used to be the way the political world worked years ago, has moved on,” said Newman, who is also editor in chief of the Journal of Political Marketing.

The Kim Janey for Boston Webstore is capitalizing on her historic rise from council president to the first woman and the first Black person to serve as Boston mayor after Walsh left for the nation’s capital.

The store’s featured products include T-shirts with four different Janey images on it, “Mayor Janey” hats in two colors (purple and white), and “Madam Mayor” totes. Some of the items include portraits of the acting mayor. The fusion of purple and tangerine gives the products a one-of-a-kind feel.

“The store is a great way for supporters to show — and wear — their support for the mayor,’' said Kirby Chandler, who is Janey’s campaign manager.

She stressed that the purpose of the merch was less about fund-raising and “more about giving supporters a way to commemorate the mayor’s run and celebrate the historic nature of being the first woman and first Black mayor of Boston.”

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Chandler said the campaign got the idea from other strong campaigns across the country, particularly those involving candidates of color and “thought it would be a cool thing to do for our supporters as well.”

The products are from Bumperactive.com, the Austin, Texas, company whose owner declined to comment for this story, and referred questions to the Janey campaign. All materials are union-made and printed, said Janey’s campaign, which noted that the company’s clients include Kamala Harris’ campaign for president, Stacey Abrams’ campaign for Georgia governor, and Maya Wiley’s campaign for New York City mayor.

Janey’s closest merch rival in this mayor’s contest is City Councilor Michelle Wu — who is also running for mayor and who, incidentally, is Janey’s closest political foe, according to a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll. Wu’s online store has only two products: Purple T-shirts with “Wu!” in white letters for $30 and a Wu Button Pack for $15. (The Wu T-shirts are sold out.)

Sarah Anders, the Wu campaign communications director, said the products, made by Grossman Marketing in Somerville, are helping to build support for the campaign and the candidate, and buying the merchandise is an “additional way that people can get involved and be a part of our team.”

She said the campaign has many more donors than any of the other candidates, which indicates that people are having a financial stake in the campaign through merchandising and other small donations. She also said supporters have been using an online graphic kit to design “homemade merch,” such as mugs, in support of Wu. “We love our official merch,” Anders said. “We also love our unofficial merchandise supporters [for] using creativity and art to support our campaign in various ways.”

The campaign of City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, another mayoral candidate, said they, too, have T-shirts, tanks, and stickers. But those items are free.

City Councilor Andrea Campbell, another mayoral contender, took to Twitter with a list of her priorities, writing that “launching a merch store before a platform policy” was not one them.

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