The stickers first started showing up on gas pumps across the country last year: pictures of President Biden, usually placed to look like he is pointing to the price of the gas, with the words “I did that!” beside him. After first spiking in popularity online months ago, the stickers are hot once again these days, thanks to recent sharp rises in gas prices—$4.33 on average for a gallon of regular. With some consumers mad enough to become sticker vigilantes and Biden’s approval ratings in the dumps, there’s only one real winner in this situation: the sticker profiteers themselves.
“It’s been ramping up for a few months,” said Javier Estrada Ovalles, who’s been doing brisk business in “I did that!” stickers at his online store catering to car enthusiasts as well as his brick-and-mortar store in El Monte, California. “But in this last month alone, once the prices of the gas really started going up, I started getting bulk sales twice or three times more than it was before.” He said he went from getting 20 to 30 individual orders a day to 80 a day, and those 80 are often for packs of 10 or more.
The stickers are also moving fast at the Patriotic Products, an online shop run by an Oklahoma-based young man named Keenan. (Keenan declined to give his last name or specific age, saying that he’s “under 21.” He was suspiciously unavailable between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.) Over the past week, “I’ve noticed an increase of organic sales, meaning I’m not having to do advertising,” Keenan told me. He estimated that he’s sold about 1,500 stickers in that time, which is pretty good, but small potatoes compared to August—that was the first month he started selling “I did that!” stickers, still very early in the trend cycle, when he claimed he raked in $40,000 in sticker sales alone. The field was clear then, but now he has dozens, maybe even hundreds, of vendors to compete with.
Over the summer, Keenan had seen a TikTok featuring the sticker. “Right when I saw it, I knew that that product would do very well,” he said. He ordered a bunch from the creator of the TikTok video and eventually started producing his own. Now, “every time I go to the pump, usually one in three times, I’ll see one myself,” Keenan said.
Estrada Ovalles said he first saw the stickers at a gas station: “I was wondering like, ‘What’s all that about?’,” he said. As gas prices got higher, he noticed them more and more: “They were getting kind of popular, so I just decided to make my own version, and they kind of blew up.” He said that of the people who purchase the stickers in person, the majority tend to be men between 18 and 30.
As the stickers have become popular, gas station employees have complained about the difficulty of getting them off the gas pumps or the worry that they might rankle some patrons. Estrada Ovalles protested that he doesn’t make the stickers for people to stick on gas pumps, but acknowledged that “they end up there anyway.” Because of that, his stickers are made of vinyl, he said: “If you try to remove ’em, they will fully come off. Wherever they might end up, it’s not a pain in the butt to clean up.”
“It all just goes back to that you can’t really control what people do,” Estrada Ovalles said, adding that a use of the stickers he actually endorses is putting them on cars: “You can put it on your gas tank, like by your lid.”
Keenan also said that his stickers are easy to remove and won’t leave residue, unlike more cheaply made products: “I go to a lot of pumps and you can see another person’s sticker and they’ll be, you know, still scratched on there, just leaving a mess. I like that mine can easily come on and off just ’cause you don’t wanna mess up someone’s pump.”
Still, he said he’s glad the stickers’ message is out there. “I think people need to know who’s responsible,” he said. When I asked him about Biden’s ability to influence gas prices, he launched into a fairly involved explanation that began, “One of the first things he did when he was in office is he shut down many pipelines, which causes us to be dependent on other countries for oil …”
Keenan himself has stuck at least a few stickers to pumps himself, he admitted.
In addition to the “I did that!” sticker, Estrada Ovalles’ store sells a Trump sticker with the letters FJB on it (as in “Fuck Joe Biden”), and he doesn’t currently carry any stickers that might appeal to Democrats, though he said he did sell some pro-Biden stuff closer to the 2020 election.
“Me personally, I’m not either left or right or Democrat or Republican, nothing like that. It’s just whatever sells is pretty much what’s gonna go on the shelf.” Estrada Ovalles said he did not vote in the most recent presidential election. When I asked him about previous top-selling stickers, he mentioned that there was a Three Percenter sticker that performed well for him for a while. “People considered it to be a hate group when it’s really not. I try to do my best research and I concluded that it’s really not.” (Many analysts and the country of Canada disagree.)
Estrada Ovalles said he too has been personally affected by rising gas prices: “I live an hour away, so every day I drive an hour here and back. I used to spend about $30 every three, four days. Now it’s about $50, $60, around there.” As for whether he buys into the message of the sticker—Did Biden do that?—he wasn’t as sure as Keenan, but he does seem to be leaning that way: “Maybe not directly, but indirectly from the actions and decisions that he’s made, I believe so, yes.”