Aug 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

"Dark Brandon" is driving Biden's campaign merch sales

Via Twitter

A few hours before Donald Trump was arraigned Thursday, Joe Biden's campaign posted a cheeky video of the president drinking coffee from a mug featuring a photo of him with laser eyes — a common illustration for the meme known as “Dark Brandon."

Why it matters: Biden has long had trouble trending online — especially compared to Trump, his once and perhaps future GOP rival. But "Dark Brandon" is giving Biden's 2024 campaign some social media virality.

By the numbers: "Dark Brandon" — an online meme that portrays the 80-year-old president as a two-steps-ahead Machiavelli — is driving the Biden campaign's merchandise sales. More than 54% of the store's total revenue is coming from Brandon-themed products, his re-election team told Axios.

  • The "Dark T-Shirt" and "Dark Roast Mug" are the best-selling products in the campaign's store, which offers 43 products, the campaign says.
  • There are eight Dark Brandon-themed products in the store, including a crop top, stickers, and white and navy baseball caps.
  • Those products alone have accounted for 44% of all store orders and driven nearly 76% of all clicks onto the website, per the campaign.

What's next: The campaign told Axios it will release a Dark Brandon tank top soon and that they are "prototyping" a color-changing Dark Brandon mug.

  • Campaign spokesperson TJ Ducklo told Axios: "All we're saying is that if you're MAGA extremists, Vladimir Putin, the post-COVID economic collapse, climate change, a crumbling bridge, or our grassroots fundraising goals: You better watch out, Jack."

Yes, but: Despite the early successes in Dark Brandon merchandise, Biden's team has struggled with small donors — people who give less than $200.

Background: The Biden White House first embraced the Dark Brandon meme last summer, when Biden aides began tweeting various images.

  • "Dark Brandon" is a play on the Republican chant "Let's go Brandon" which is a euphemism for "F--- Joe Biden."
  • At the White House Correspondents' Dinner in April, Biden introduced a comedian by putting on his Aviator sunglasses and saying: "I'm going to be fine with your jokes, but I'm not sure about Dark Brandon."
  • Some of the early imagery used in Dark Brandon memes likely came from a Chinese illustrator named Yang Quan, who shortly after the 2020 election depicted a strongman Biden, "Game of Thrones"-style.
  • Since then, the Biden memes have become increasingly varied.

Flashback: There is a comedic presidential parallel to Dark Brandon.

  • In 1986, "Saturday Night Live" depicted Ronald Reagan — then the oldest president in U.S. history at 75 — at a time when there were concerns about his mental competence.
  • SNL's Phil Hartman played Reagan as sweet and doddering in public, but an all-seeing, multi-lingual mastermind behind closed doors.
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