Elon Musk says at least 200,000 Tesla fans have put down $100 refundable deposits to preorder the company’s outlandish new Cybertruck. That $20 million represents a much-needed cash boost for Tesla as it gears up for production on the truck and other car models it’s promised consumers. Musk isn’t the only one trying to make a buck off of the Blade Runner–inspired Cybertruck’s virality. Amazon, Etsy, and other sites have flooded in recent days with Cybertruck-related merchandise, from Cybertruck smartphone grips to “I want a Cybertruck” T-shirts. One Amazon seller has named their shop simply “Cybertruck.”
The swag is part of a larger ecommerce market that cashes in on internet culture, with people selling everything from hoodies and mugs to sweatpants all featuring the latest memes. As CNBC reported earlier this month, some merchants are turning to TikTok to find fresh memes they can monetize, whether that’s OK Boomer–style generational warfare or Jeffrey Epstein–related conspiracies. Sellers have to work increasingly quickly to put merchandise up for sale, as news cycles have grown shorter and competition between merchants has ratcheted up.
Many merchants rely on third-party companies to print and ship their designs on demand, like TeeSpring, Spreadshirt, Redbubble, Zazzle, and CafePress. Amazon also has its own service, Merch by Amazon, but sellers have to submit an application and wait to be approved to use it. The services allow people to make a profit without any upfront investment or inventory in their possession. To market their merch, sellers often target people with ads on Facebook, Instagram, or even Reddit.
Selling merch this way isn’t a risk-free business. One problem sellers often run into is trademark infringement. Two weeks before Musk unveiled his futuristic vehicle, a lawyer for Tesla filed a trademark for the Cybertruck featuring the word “CYBERTRUCK,” all caps, in a simple serif font, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s online database. Then, the same day Musk made his announcement, the lawyer filed another patent, this time for “CYBERTRUCK” in the graffiti-style font that’s now the background of Musk’s Twitter profile.
It’s the same graffiti font used by many of the Cybertruck swag sellers on Amazon and Etsy, both of which forbid trademark infringement on their platforms but have sometimes struggled to remove it. A spokesperson for Etsy said the company was unable to comment on specific listings. Amazon and Tesla did not immediately return requests for comment.
Tesla sells official merchandise—though no shirts yet featuring the Cybertruck—through its own website. But the company isn’t really in competition with people who sell knockoffs on other platforms. Musk has famously avoided paying to advertise Tesla. He relies instead on superfans who might, say, buy a T-shirt online to market his cars for him. The Cybertruck looks straight out of a 1980s science fiction wet dream—it’s the Google Glass of cars. So of course it became a meme, and those in the business of monetizing memes wanted to take advantage.
If you’re more a fan of the 2020 Ford Ranger aesthetic, don’t worry. Personalized merchandise is an enormous business. Someone will happily sell you a T-shirt with that truck on it.
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social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/cybertruck-swag-floods-amazon-etsy