Poor Ted Cruz Doesn’t Even Get a Funko Election Figurine
Presidential campaign merchandise is usually perfunctory at best: T-shirts, buttons, maybe the odd novelty belt buckle. Someone With Tiny Hands has his “Make America Great Again” hats. Bernie Sanders offers “Feel The Bern” mugs. And until recently, Ted Cruz had the nightmare fuel that are the posters of conservative street artist Sabo. But this summer will see another tchotchke to commemorate the indelible 2016 presidential campaign, and it’s fantastic.
Funko, the toy company behind the increasingly popular Pop! vinyl figures, announced Friday that it will release a “Pop The Vote” line featuring three candidates for president: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Someone With Tiny Hands. (It’s also releasing an intentionally revolting Garbage Pail Kids-themed figures named “Donald Dumpty” and “Billary Hillary.”)
Funko owns hundreds of licenses, from Marvel and DC characters to movie characters to people like Conan O’Brien and John Oliver. The company has grown rapidly in recent few years, with Pop! figures and bobbleheads driving most of that business. But this reaction to the pop-culture zeitgeist is a new venture. (It’s not entirely without precedent: Funko offered a Wacky Wobbler Obama bobblehead during his first campaign.)
Making a new figure typically means a lengthy, even months-long approval process, especially when working with licensors like Star Wars or Marvel. But the “Pop The Vote” line went from inspiration to reality in barely a month after a Funko staffer pointed to Bernie Sanders’ emerging cultural impact. “It was around the time he was on Saturday Night Live and Larry David’s impersonations were taking off,” says Mark Robben, Funko’s director of marketing. “It was just clear that from a pop culture perspective, this was something.”
It wasn’t the first time the company made a quick turnaround. When Guardians of the Galaxy hit theaters a few years ago, Funko riffed on each character—but hadn’t yet seen the post-credits scene featuring the dancing baby Groot. Once everyone saw it, the course of action was clear. “We had it sculpted and into prototype within a few weeks, and then it was available as a pre-order on Amazon,” says Robben. “It was the most pre-ordered toy of all time on Amazon, and then shipped a few months later.”
Once the company knew it wanted to do something around Sanders, the conversation expanded to include other candidates, ultimately adding Clinton and Someone With Tiny Hands. Robben says that doesn’t reflect the company’s stand on politics—“it’s just which candidates we thought are resonating within popular culture”—and isn’t worried about any of the candidates winning the nomination. “Even if Someone With Tiny Hands or Sanders dropped out of the race tomorrow,” he says, “they’re still going to have fans.”
Unlike previous figures for real people, like the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty, the Pop The Vote concept didn’t require a license or approval. “It’s a fine line when it comes to real people,” Robben says, “but politicians generally fall under fair use because it’s considered a parody.” And since the company is operating under fair use, it didn’t contact any of the campaigns or candidates before Friday’s announcement.
But what about the other Republican candidates, like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich? We reached out to their campaigns for comment, but got no response. (Presumably all the candidates were too busy staring longingly out a window during a rainstorm, wishing they had been reduced to a 3.75-inch vinyl figure with oversized all-pupil eyes and no mouth.)
Funko won’t release the Pop The Vote line until June, and the images it released last week are only 3-D renderings from KeyShot—the figures haven’t been physically produced yet. But the dual rise of political engagement during an election year and the popularity of Funko’s products is evident—some stores are already accepting pre-orders.