It all started with a rather cryptic Instagram story from musician, actor, director, and producer Donald Glover, announcing “The 46 Campaign” pop-up event taking place with Democratic candidate Andrew Yang in Los Angeles the next day—the day of the December Democratic debate.
Then there were the cryptic tweets from Yang’s press secretary, Eric Sanchez, and his campaign manager, Zach Graumann. Mystery, and consequently hype, was building. What did it all mean? It meant limited-edition campaign merch, as part of a creative collaboration between Glover and Yang. But members of the #YangGang who lined up outside the one-time pop-up event soon discovered that Glover would be announcing something much more concrete: The producer and actor is officially joining the Yang campaign as a creative consultant.
This first collaboration offered up playful, on-brand merch for Yang’s Twitter-savvy, dad-joke-friendly base—as well as insight into the direction the Yang campaign is taking. Though Yang is not among the candidates currently polling in the top five, he has a dedicated following (the aforementioned Yang Gang) that is predominantly made up of young people between 18 and 29. He polls especially well with young men and has significant Asian American support, according to FiveThirtyEight. He’s also distinct due to his background: Before entering politics, Yang was an attorney and entrepreneur and founded the nonprofit Venture for America. His popularity online led the New York Times to call him “the internet’s favorite candidate.”
Fittingly, then, the pop-up offered sweatshirts, posters, and hats emblazoned with Yang’s most prominent meme, $1K. It’s shorthand for Yang’s proposed “Freedom Dividend” policy, based on the concept of universal basic income, in which each American is awarded $1,000 a month, no questions asked. The policy has become a tentpole of his campaign. (In addition to the regular merch, there was a limited quantity of 10 sweatshirts signed by Yang and Glover available to purchase for a neat $1K.) The pop-up also offered hats that read MATH, indicating not just an appreciation for arithmetic, but an ask: it stands for Make America Think Harder, according to the Daily Mail. No matter which product supporters walked away with, it seemed each was designed as 1. a symbol for Yang’s policy, and 2. for instant memeification.
Had a blast with Donald Glover today! Big thanks to everyone who came out in L.A.! pic.twitter.com/hk87FuArsS
— Andrew Yang???? (@AndrewYang) December 19, 2019
“The specialized merchandise embodies the core policies and values of Andrew Yang’s Humanity First platform and future collaborations are expected,” Yang’s team said in a statement, according to Complex.
It’s unclear how exactly those collaborations will play out or what Glover’s role as a creative consultant will look like going forward. But Yang’s ability to turn a fundraising event into an equally effective marketing stunt is a nod to his entrepreneurial past. And creating limited-edition, covetable apparel and merchandise with a creative innovator such as Glover, whose work spans film, TV, and music, could be an indication of the tactical role design could play for his campaign: to build hype and break through the constant churn of the political news cycle.
“Donald Glover is one of the most talented and forward thinking artists on the planet,” said Yang’s campaign manager, Zach Graumann, in a statement to Fast Company. “He sees the same problems that we do—that we need to rewrite the rules to the economy so it works for people. We’re hopeful and excited to have him continue collaborating with our campaign to take our message to more Americans.” Whether he can help this long-shot candidate turn hype into real traction in the polls remains to be seen.