In this opinion piece, BCM joint managing director Kevin Moreland explains how Donald Trump out-marketed Hillary Clinton in the race to the White House.
So Donald Trump is president-elect. As they say, only in America. But then again, perhaps not.
The commentariat seems to be so often surprised about support for people and ideas that don’t accord with logic – those which don’t appear to make social, economic, political or diplomatic sense – those which are readily called out as racist, sexist or divisive. Think Brexit, think One Nation, think PUP, and now think the highest office on the planet, the presidency of the United States.
Let’s look at this through a marketing lens for a moment. Everyone in marketing knows:
- differentiation is critical;
- an emotional platform works better than a rational one;
- having a compelling brand story is important, and;
- knowing your audience and what motivates them is everything.
Now, back to Trump. He positioned himself as the anti-politician. He spoke his mind and he was a man of the people (curious for a billionaire). He was anti-establishment, anti-elite (again a hard-sell for a billionaire), anti-Washington, anti-Muslim, anti-globalisation, anti-trade, anti-Mexican, and he leveraged and preyed on one of the most powerful of all emotions – fear.
It didn’t matter that sometimes his arguments didn’t make sense – look no further than the average comment on a tabloid news site. They aren’t necessarily logical either, and are often written by those who Hillary would seek to dismiss and neatly place in her basket of deplorables. But they’re real thoughts from real people, whose hearts and minds are there for the winning.
Trump’s brand was about one thing: ‘Making America Great Again’. Code for Good ol’ fashioned Mom and Pop values, apple pie, a 1950s white America (where women knew their place) bringing back loads of lost manufacturing jobs, and ridding America of Mexican rapists, inner-city black ghettos and followers of Islam (especially followers of Islam).
The ‘Make America Great Again’ narrative recognised that lots of people in the developed world are scared – scared of a changing society, scared of increased cultural blending, scared of the Middle East, scared of refugees, scared of terrorism, scared of losing their jobs, and scared of how rapidly all this change is occurring. Trump told his story with such consistency, passion and sometimes even anger, that it mattered little that in truth. The change genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. Trump has promised a return to the good old days and many bought it. Why? Because it fulfilled a yearning for simpler times.
And yes, it’s true that along the way Trump came up against some challenges, especially with the embarrassing Access Hollywood leak which revealed much about his character. But in the end, this was less important than his brand story and point of difference.
Trump, from a marketing point of view, is what happens when you differentiate, know your audience, develop a story which accords with their world view and use emotion to sell your message.
When Bill Clinton won the US presidential election in 1992, his internal note to self was said to be “It’s the economy, stupid”.
In 2016, Trump’s surely must have been “It’s the marketing, stupid”.