Debate moment plus merch equals cash

In a debate, candidates are constantly in search of moments.

A fiery exchange, a zippy one-liner — something that stands out. If a line resonates enough with voters, it could turn some of them into supporters.

So when moments like this happen, campaigns are eager — and increasingly well-equipped — to seize on them and turn them into a marketing opportunity.

We’ve already seen one example of a candidate successfully marketing their moment.

Kamala Harris did that in the first Democratic 2020 debate, packaging her “that little girl was me” line from her exchange with Joe Biden over busing into a T-shirt.

The shirt, showing a picture of Harris as a child in pigtails, was posted for $29.99 on Harris’ campaign website mere hours after the debate wrapped. That fast merch turnaround helped bring $2 million dollars into the campaign in 24 hours, powering Harris to her best fundraising day of her campaign yet.

The revenue raised from supporters who buy that merchandise, crucially, counts toward a candidate’s overall campaign contributions. And the number of campaign contributions helps determine who will be on stage in the upcoming September and October debates.

This week’s CNN debates in Detroit gave another opportunity for candidates to spin their one-liners into campaign swag.

Hours after the Tuesday debates, Tim Ryan released a sticker pack reading “YOU DON’T HAVE TO YELL.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, went for the slightly more profane “I wrote the damn bill” sticker.

Brands can get in on the money-making action, too. One big moment in Wednesday night’s debate came from Sen. Cory Booker, whose “Kool-Aid” name-drop got plenty of attention.

In an exchange with Joe Biden about criminal justice, Booker said, “Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community, you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.”

Kool-Aid did not pass up the chance, tweeting: “#Ahem @SenBooker OH YEAH #WeKnowTheFlavor #DemDebate” The tweet featured a gif of the iconic Kool-Aid Man tapping a microphone.

But not every candidate (or their campaign team) is equally as excited about the merchandising opportunities.

“Everyone is looking for their T-shirt moment,” a Biden adviser told reporters before the CNN debate, according to NPR. “And Joe Biden thinks this is bigger than selling T-shirts.”