Jack Goldenberg has great timing. The former poli-sci major turned entrepreneur met in May with two curators from the Smithsonian Museum of American History to present them with three of his popular Barack Obama wristwatches to add to their collection of U.S. election memorabilia.
“I’ve got a good track record for being at the right place at the right time,” says the marketing master whose past efforts have influenced the successes behind such popular product promotions as McDonalds’ first Happy Meal, Pop Rocks, and Cabbage Patch Kids, to name only a few.
The key to ‘viral marketing’ is word of mouth, says Goldenberg, who started honing his skills long before the term was coined, and who currently employs his talents full time as a senior copywriter at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Cabbage Patch was a viral product because you couldn’t turn around without seeing one,” he says. “I convinced Coleco it was a viable product.”
Pop Rocks were a natural word-of-mouth winner because people put the candy into their mouths and showed others, he says. “Mikey never died,” notes Goldenberg of the urban legend that the child actor in the Life cereal commercials met his demise by mixing Pop Rocks with soda.
Whether it’s Pop Rocks or pop culture, Goldenberg says he’s much more strategic than people think. “Everyone thinks I’m so creative, which I appreciate,” he says. “I may have my head in the clouds, but my feet are on the ground. My dad had a chain of stores when I was growing up, and I learned the nuts and bolts of how to market things from him.”
Of the three Obama watches selected by the Smithsonian, Goldenberg’s “Love Your Mama, Vote Obama” wristwatch, which depicts a basic blue and green earth image, is his favorite. He’s donating 10 percent of the profits from this model to an organization called Hire Heroes USA, which helps veterans with disabilities find jobs.
The “Time for a Change We Can Believe in” watch that started it all and bears a smiling Obama face sold out earlier this summer, but don’t worry, Goldenberg just keeps placing more orders. The “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” model, which depicts an enthusiastic Obama pointing toward you in an Uncle Sam–like pose, rounds out Goldenberg’s latest Smithsonian set.
But Barack Obama watches aren’t the first of Goldenberg’s ideas to make it into the Smithsonian. He made Gore for President watches for the 2000 election. “He was such a boring candidate I made Bush for President watches, too,” he says with a laugh, though not entirely joking. “They were both so boring I sold four times as many ‘Anybody Else for President’ watches.”
Another popular favorite that year: a Gore-Lieberman watch with 5761, the Jewish year equivalent of 2000. The Smithsonian has those, too, says Goldenberg.
At the end of the day, no matter how many watches he’s sold, Goldenberg says he’s really rich thanks to his wife of 34 years, Peggy, and their daughter Jessica. “I get a lot of happiness from my work, but family is the most important thing.”