Abraham Lincoln: Celebrity pitchman

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jun 7, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Celebrity pitchman

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jun 7, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Abraham Lincoln’s been dead for 147 years. But modern day marketers know a good thing when they see it. Yes, he’s on the $5 bill, but that doesn’t count. Not only has Lincoln become a celebrity pitchman of sorts, he’ll be the star of not one, but two blockbusters movies this year.

We sent Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer to figure out what the heck’s going on with the 16th president of these United States.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: So, everybody knows about Lincoln and the Civil War. But Hollywood says he also had a stake in a different war. Against vampires.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” clip: I shall kill them all.

The film, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” premieres later this month. The film’s stars will soon invade the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier for a free, promotional showing of the movie. So far there are no plans to outfit the Lincoln Memorial with a set of fangs or work in a Lincoln Bedroom promo. But the marketers would, if they could. Because, honestly? Nothing sells like Abe.

Jackie Hogan: Lincoln has become of the most recognizable brands in America today.

Jackie Hogan teaches sociology at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., deep in Lincoln country. She wrote a book on the marketing of our 16th president.

Hogan: Lincoln stands for all American values — honesty, integrity. And perhaps above all he is an exemplar of the American Dream because he rose from rags to riches.

Riches, like the kind you keep in Lincoln Financial to buy things like Lincoln Continentals. Or, if you’re in Asbury Park, N.J., to get rid of roaches just call Honest Abe’s Pest Control.

Honest Abe’s Pest Control ad: Call us for problems with ants, skunks, squirrels, termites and more. Honest Abe’s Pest Control.

But does any of this Lincoln-linked advertising work? I went to the Lincoln Memorial to find out what Abe’s biggest fans think.

Evan Thompson: I think it’s all a money game.

Evan Thompson is a retiree from North Carolina. He says marketers are trashing Lincoln’s legacy.

Thompson: They just happen to know that hey, everybody will recognize the name Abraham Lincoln, so let’s use it and abuse it.

But the teens and 20-somethings I talked to said that is so four score and seven years ago. Seventeen-year-old Brittany Blackburn is on a school trip from Michigan. Sounding jaded, she says we need Abe right now. In pest control. On movie screens. Whatever.

Brittany Blackburn: Our country is getting so far away from, like, telling the truth, that maybe we’re trying to bring that back into the culture. So, maybe that’s why he’s coming back into fashion. Because he was, like, the truth teller.

Of course, Blackburn is part of Hollywood’s favorite demographic. So if she thinks Lincoln’s cool? He’ll continue to loom large at your favorite multiplex. Did I mention Steven Spielberg has a Lincoln movie coming out later this year?

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.