Daily Insights

The Mittens That Launched a Thousand Memes

By: Alizah Asif Farooqi | Jan 25, 2021

Last week, history was made. Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States and Kamala Harris was sworn in as the nation’s first woman, Black and Asian vice president. While these political moments will forever be etched into viewer’s minds, there is one more image making waves—at least, in the marketing world. Vermont senator and presidential contender Bernie Sanders was snapped at the event sporting a sensible brown jacket, blue surgical mask, and a pair of oversized mittens that would go on to spark a thousand memes. 

There’s a reason the phrase “content marketing” puts content first. Ultimately, it’s about giving people what they want before marketing it. And during a time when worries run rampant about the Coronavirus pandemic, job stability, and seasonal affective disorder, a “not that great” photo taken by Brendan Smialowski made marketing history. The snap quickly made rounds across the internet, with social media users who related to the grumpy-cozy mood adding their own captions and having fun via the magic of memes and Photoshop. But it wasn’t just regulars sharing a laugh. Unexpected brands like Benefit Cosmetics, wikiHow, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra tried their hand at meme-ifying the moment as well. Online marketplace Etsy turned the meme into an advertising opportunity starring the smittens (sweater-mittens), which fittingly,  were handmade by a second-grade Vermont teacher out of repurposed wool sweaters and recycled plastic bottles as a gift to the senator, who has a history of supporting environmental causes. Unsurprisingly, the image has also sparked a wave of mitten mania in addition to marketing magic. Though the mittens themselves are sold out, a slew of internet sources touting “Feel the Bern, not the cold.” now show fans how to whip up a pair of their own. 

So what does it all mean, aside from the fact that consumers love a laugh wherever they can snag one? The power of strong branding can’t be denied. In this case, the Bernie Sanders brand is so well-defined and instantly recognizable that consumers choose to catch and latch on to it even on a day as distinct as Inauguration Day. If a consumer finds something captivating, brands would do well to observe this behavior and try to weave it into their own social media strategy, if possible and if only for a moment. That said, marketing opportunities don’t look like they used to, as observed in Gartner’s insight report on the rise of unlikely brand collaborations. 

Though Sanders never made it to the presidential primaries, his personal brand certainly seems to have the internet’s vote.