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Pizza? Lotion? Airplanes? Marketing the Election

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No matter who wins the election, Corporate America wants to win the PR campaign.


Everyone's talking about the presidential race, so if you want your product to be part of the national conversation, time to play Hail to the Chief Marketing Officer. This year, more than ever, there are campaign tie-ins.

—JAKKS Pacific will be auctioning off Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Cabbage Patch dolls.

Pepsi 's Frito Lay has a Facebook contest on which candidate's portrait made from Cheetos looks better.

—Obama masks are outselling Romney masks at Spirit Halloween by a two-to-one margin. (Read More: Who's Winning—Obama or Romney? A Scary Indicator! )

Bliss is selling Mint Romney and O-Bama Orange body lotions for this "eau-lection".

Family Circle even had a cookie recipe contest from the candidates' wives (Michelle Obama beat out Ann Romney in the closest tally ever).

Really? Cookies and lotions?

"In a social media world, you kind of look a little odd if you're not getting into the conversation, " said Natalie Zmuda of AdAge. "But brands can't really take sides, and shouldn't take sides."

The results have been mixed.

JetBlue is taking off with its first election-related campaign, called "Election Protection." Vote for one of the candidates, and if he loses, you could win a free trip out of the country. It plays off perennial threats by those who swear they'll desert the U.S. if the other guy wins. (Read More: Politically Disappointed? Here's a Way to Flee for Free.)

"From an advertising perspective, we're outspent four to one by some of our competitors, " said JetBlue's chief marketing officer Marty St. George.

While the airline won't say how much it's spending on "Election Protection, " St. George said that last year during Carmageddon, JetBlue spent about $15, 000 on a promotion offering cheap flights around Los Angeles freeway closures. "We got hundreds or even thousands of times (that amount) in media value."

By the way, Barack Obama is winning the JetBlue poll, which you could argue isn't a really "winning, " since your candidate needs to lose for you to win the free flights.

A veteran of election tie-ins is 7-Eleven. The convenience store has been letting customers choose coffee cups bearing each candidate's name in "Seven Election" since 2000, an unscientific survey that the company says has been accurate every time. (Read More: 7-Eleven's Election Coffee Poll)

"Right now, we have Obama at 60 percent and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 40 percent, " said Vice President of Guest Experience Nancy Smith, who expects six million "votes" to be cast before election day.

She said about half of all customers coming in to buy coffee at 7-Eleven are picking either an Obama or Romney cup, with the other half choosing an "independent" green cup. "It's a great opportunity to get people in to try a great cup of coffee."

One campaign that has arguably backfired is Pizza Hut's "Pizza Party" campaign. Debate nights are often good pizza nights, as people eat in and watch the candidates spar.

"This is actually our first big foray in the political environment, so it's kind of unchartered territory for us at this point, " Yum -owned chain's Chief Marketing Officer, Kurt Kane, told CNBC earlier this week.

Instead of having fun around the debates, Pizza Hut decided to go one step further and inject itself into a debate. It promised "free pizza for life" to anyone who asked one of the candidates whether he preferred "pepperoni or sausage." The company thought its new Big Dinner Box tied in well with concerns about the economy, as it offers $26 worth of food for $19.99.

"When you take over 300 million Americans, that means they have the opportunity to save over $2 billion on pizza purchases over the coming year which they can inject back into the economy and spend in different ways, " Kane said.

As for a hatching up a promotion egging on someone to ask the candidates about pizza, "So far the reaction for this idea has been fantastic."

The reaction soon turned negative. "Dear Pizza Hut, You're Not Helping, " wrote Andrew McCarthy at Slate.com.

"Pizza Hut Wants to Punk Presidential Debate as a Marketing Stunt, " blogged Paul Forbes at Eater.com.

Thursday morning the company removed a YouTube ad promising the free pizza for life, and while it stands by the offer, it's no longer promoting it.

"Pizza Hut is now encouraging all of America, rather than one of the few hundred at the Presidential debate, to answer the sausage vs. pepperoni question at pizzahut.com/pizzaparty and for a chance to win free pizza for life, " said Yum's Doug Terfehr in a statement. "We recognize that this is a topic that a lot of people are passionate about and so we feel debating it online is our best way to make it great."

The move illustrates what happens when a fun marketing idea surrounding the election and the debates cause a debate of its own.

—By CNBC's Jane Wells
@janewells

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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