Six lessons brand managers can learn from Donald Trump.
There is a political circus taking place and, no, it’s not us this time!
Donald Trump has become a one-man juggernaut. Nobody seems to like him, yet someone seems to be voting for him. In a spot of morose perversion, many Pakistanis are hoping he wins. He is loud, abrasive, misogynistic, fascist, and apparently suicidal. Yet, it is not so simple. You see, an idiot he is not.
Donald Trump knows that any publicity is good publicity. From his questionable books, to his TV show The Apprentice, he has always, always stayed in the news. He is like a sore thumb or a bad tooth on the world stage: loathe him, but ignore him at your own peril.
An objective evaluation of his campaign enables us to see how he has, er, Trumped his competition so far through the following tactics.
1. Be blunt and consistent – if not truthful
You know the adage about any lie becoming the truth with enough repetition. Researchers, perhaps out of useful things to research (such as cancer and ebola) are all over Trump’s campaign tactics. They discovered that his rhetoric uses some key words consistently: huge (read: HUUUUGE), stupid, nice, look, wall, tremendous (see this video for an in-depth look:
This has served to make his message very clear across a large demographic. Please note that it has nothing to do with whether he has a clear message or strategy. It is simply that the use of consistent language, phrasing and emphasis creates an illusion of robustness that his detractors find hard to dispel. It proves that consistency and branding is as important as any other trait. Witness Marlboro.
2. It is about the race – not presidential merit
Trump has been a ruthless businessman for decades. He has been far less successful than he makes himself out to be. His projects have been declared bankrupt multiple times, and his personal life can best be described as a royal mess. However, he has methodically worked to portray his Republican rivals as losers, no-goodniks who are unlikely to win. How can he say that? By verbally beating them into submission one by one and convincing voters that they don’t have a chance. In short, he paints them as losers and they lose because he paints them so. Trump is focused on the race. His answers on matters of policy and strategy are at best, vague and at worst, laughable. However, policy and strategy have not worked for his rivals. Therefore, it can be concluded that if you portray your brand as “the leading brand”, people will believe you and make it happen!
3. The underdog card: Trump, an underdog?
Most would dispute at least part of that adjective. Yet, this is how he is marketing himself. He might own untold billions, but in terms of politics he is not a core Republican; rather he is an outsider. In effect, his strategy is of a hostile takeover of the GOP. Understandably, the GOP’s track record over the last three decades in terms of presidents and candidates has been abysmal. As a result, frustrated GOP loyalists have started to see him as a messiah (as I said earlier, he has them convinced that he is the only one). As a bonus, he scores points against Clinton as well as she is ‘establishment’ to the core. So, if a leading brand enlists as their brand ambassador an athlete who can overcome overwhelming odds, you know what they are aiming for.
4. Political correctness does not make headlines
One has to wonder which ethnic or religious group has Trump not offended? Muslims, Christians, immigrants, women... the list goes on. He has been rude, brash, abrasive and boasted that even were he to kill a man on the street, his vote bank would remain intact. Trump has tapped into our subconscious where deep down we harbour the ugliest prejudices and preconceptions against any ethnic, religious or demographic group (don’t we?). It is only the restraint taught by religion and social norms that keeps these base urges at bay. Trump has blown apart the shackles of political correctness so that even if people are horrified by what he says they will still vote for him. It is either a mass Stockholm syndrome or them agreeing with him. In the marketing world, inappropriate ads basically pay for themselves. The recent Jazz ad, Kit Kat Talcum Powder, or the over the top sexuality portrayed by body sprays. The more we are offended, the more we remember.
5. The media is your best friend
Trump’s appearance on Saturday Night Live sent reverberations throughout the world. He opened the show with a faintly self-mocking monologue, joined on stage by two actors imitating him. Jimmy Fallon famously interviewed Trump, playing his mirror image.
It was a display of talent and audacity by Fallon and incredible savvy by Trump. End result: his face triplicated and duplicated on TV, all for free! Stephen Colbert said that if Trump was elected, he will be the last President of the USA. Yet he spends half his show talking about him. Trump is receiving incredible publicity. Being a reality show star gives him an almost insurmountable edge as a media manipulator. The US media has traditionally sided with Democrats, yet they can’t have enough of Trump. It goes to show that a clever product placement (Samsung at the 2013 Oscars) can pay itself several times over in free publicity.
6. Remain on-brand all the time
Many think of Trump as a joke. His abrasiveness, OTT opinions and devil-may-care attitude cross the boundaries of reality and, perversely, this is making people believe in him more. His on-screen persona in the Apprentice was perhaps no persona at all – it was him all along. It goes to show that being “good” or “evil” is secondary; you have to be consistent first. This explains why Darth Vader remains more popular to this day than Luke Skywalker. Marco Rubio, who has dropped out of the race, found out the hard way what changing your message means. A few weeks ago he said “and you know what they say about people with small hands?” and in one fell swoop he exceeded the crudeness of anything said by Trump, and what is more, when Trump responded he was on-message and on-brand because people expect him to be crass. It was not, however expected of Rubio, which is maybe why Rubio is out of the race while Trump soars.