Anti-Bush Extremism: The New Corporate Marketing Gimmick

"Worst President Ever!" window display at the San Francisco "Marc by Marc Jacobs" store

The upscale "Marc by Marc Jacobs" fashion outlet at 2142 Fillmore Street in San Francisco's exclusive Pacific Heights shopping district recently unveiled a new window display: seven-foot-high blue letters spelling out the phrase


Leah Garchik, the gossip columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, scored an exclusive scoop when she mentioned the window display in her June 2, 2006 column and then called up the Marc Jacobs company headquarters. According to Garchik:

The windows were ordered up by the visual department of Jacobs' New York office, which tells me they were specified only for San Francisco. Store manager Moe Salimi said that no passer-by has complained.

There was no photo accompanying Garchik's column, so the next day I went to Pacific Heights myself to see the new display:

I quickly discovered why there was no photo accompanying Garchik's column: because of the way the letters were arranged, and because of the reflections in the windows, it was almost impossible to get a clear shot of the display.

Now, it might be amusingly over-the-top if a small, local radical clothing shop were to put up such a sentiment in its window. But Marc Jacobs is a major clothing corporation and a trendsetter in the fashion scene. The decision to create a customized window display specifically for the San Francisco store and no other store can only mean one thing: the Marc Jacobs company believes that the best and most profitable way to sell clothing to San Franciscans is to insult President Bush.

In other words: Announcing "WORST PRESIDENT EVER!" in 7-foot-high letters in not just a statement of political angst: it is a calculated marketing scheme to lure in customers.

And make no mistake: a lot of money is involved. According to an article about the store's opening in early May,

The Pacific Heights boutique ... is the fifth Marc by Marc Jacobs store. (The Marc Jacobs collection store is on Maiden Lane.) A report in Women's Wear Daily estimated that the store could bring in $4 million in sales the first year.

Millions of dollars are at stake. Marc Jacobs wants to make sure the store doesn't fail, as they had been eyeing this particular retail building for almost a decade:

The longtime business partners have had their hearts set on the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento streets for seven long years. ..."They say the space is jinxed," Duffy says. Then he laughed, rolled his eyes and looked at the swarms of shoppers around him. "Bad luck? We've been waiting and waiting for this spot. ... Judging from yesterday and today, San Francisco loves us."

But it was on that very opening day that the seeds of the anti-Bush display were sown. The company's original window display was in a red-white-and-blue theme -- and people complained:

The Jacobs' boutiques are known for their inventive, arty windows, often political in nature.... Duffy said they went all patriotic this time [for the opening-day display], selling American flag surfboards ($495) and flag beach towels ($28) with the store's name and address emblazoned in blue letters on a white background.

"Can you believe we actually got comments about using the American flag theme, here in tolerant San Francisco?" he said. "We may not like the president, but we love America."

Despite an occasional negative remark, Duffy said this was the biggest store opening they've ever had...

After this experience, the honchos back in New York got together and discussed the public response to their standard red-white-and-blue theme: obviously, it was was going to drive away some liberal San Francisco customers. So they came up with a new marketing plan: insult the president! That'll bring in the crowds! And with $4 million per year at stake, this window display was not a decision to be taken lightly.

I went inside and snapped a picture of the letters up close. The truth was, no one seemed to be paying much attention to the dispay in any event.

Hoping to get a clear picture of the letters from the other side, I took this picture from inside the store...

Then flipped the image digitally to get this view of "WORST PRESIDENT EVER" from the back.

Once inside I saw that one of the Marc Jacobs clothing lines is called "Stinky Rat." I subsequently discovered that one of the "Stinky Rat" designs sold by Marc Jacobs in Japan is a T-shirt sporting the phrase (can you guess?): Worst President Ever.

The shirts are available in Japan, but I'm not sure if they're being sold in America. But one thing's for sure: the phrase "Worst President Ever!" was already part of the Marc Jacobs marketing ethos.

I took one last shot of the store before heading down to the Union Street Fair, a few blocks away...

...where this character echoed the "Worst President Ever" theme as he tried to register voters. He didn't seem to be having much luck. But just half a block down the street, there was an astounding sight:

The Republican Party had the nerve to set up its own registration booth, and -- shock! -- people were crowding around to sign up.

San Francisco: always full of surprises.

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