BETHEL PARK, Pa. -- They're calling it "CookieGate." Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney put his foot in his mouth when he should have put in a cookie. But that's the way the cookie crumbles, even in politics. And the brouhaha shows how silly political campaigning can become in an instant, how social media can make an offhand comment into a national "watercooler" moment and how two resourceful retailers can use that moment in the spotlight to their advantage.
During a campaign stop in Bethel Park., Pa., on Tuesday, Romney joked about some cookies that a supporter offered to him, saying, "I'm not sure about these cookies. Did you make those cookies?" he asked the people around him. "You didn't, did you? No. No. They came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or wherever."
Watch the embedded video from WPXI11News, or click here to hear Romney make the cookie comment.
In an interview with WTAE-TV, Bethel Bakery owner John Walsh said, "We wanted him to be welcomed with the best in the burg, and he had no idea ... how beloved this institution is that provided these cookies."
The bakery took Romney's joke and ran with it, launching a "CookieGate" promotion that gives customers a free half-dozen cookies for each dozen they purchase. "We're just having fun with it," Julie Lytle, who handles marketing for Bethel Bakery, told CNN.
But the folks at Dallas-based 7-Eleven weren't at all offended by the suggestion that the cookies looked like they came from 7-Eleven. They saw the situation as an opportunity to get out a message that its stores are a great place to go for fresh baked goods.
"I have Google Alerts on all things 7-Eleven and '7-11'," company spokesperson Margaret Chabris told CSP Daily News. "I saw the articles coming out and said, 'Romney got it right--there are bakeries across the U.S. that provide fresh cookies, donuts, muffins and other baked goods to our stores daily.' I saw the news as an opportunity to communicate that we have this wonderful capability to make and deliver fresh baked goods daily."
She added, "When I saw CNN was posting news about it on its Political Ticker, I contacted CNN to let them know that there are 14 bakeries dedicated to serving 5,500 U.S. 7-Eleven stores."
Chabris said 7-Eleven has talked to many other national media outlets about its cookies since the story went viral.
To make the most of the opportunity, she said, "We plan to have cookies delivered Saturday to Romney's Boston campaign headquarters."
Democrats are using the comment as fodder to show that the candidate is out of touch with "real people," a common charge on both sides of the aisle in this age of millionaire politicians.
To see how the story is faring on social media, check out the hashtag #cookiegate on Twitter.
7-Eleven operates franchises or licenses more than 9,100 7-Eleven stores in North America. Globally, 7-Eleven has approximately 45,600 stores in 16 countries. During 2010, 7-Eleven stores worldwide generated total sales close to $63 billion.