The US Election In Marketing Terms, As Seen From The Relative Objectivity Of My Igloo In The Great White North.
Up to now, I have been anything but objective in any commentary that I may have created pertaining to the current US election.
This may have had a lot to do with the simple fact that I have always viewed Donald Trump with a bit of a jaundiced eye. I never bought into his brand I suppose. Mainly because it was one that has been built on a combination of hypocrisy and dishonesty, as evidenced by both his astounding number of business failures and the stories of his treatment of the people whom he hired to build his various palaces.
He was always, despite his masterful manipulation of the media, seen by me as a kind of ego-obsessed carpetbagger whose only real skill was figuring out how to make money by screwing people over.
On the other side of the coin, Hillary Clinton’s brand has, until recently, been seen as that of someone dedicated to public service. Both as first lady to one of the more successful presidents, then later as a senator for New York and then Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
The Marketing Perspective
So this election for me was one of dueling brands. And for better or worse both candidates’ brands were extremely well defined.
From a targeting perspective, Trump decided to build his base on marginalized, right wing leaning, working class white people. Which makes a lot of sense to a candidate who was prepared to make a lot of promises and never actually reveal a platform.
Trump’s ride to power could almost be seen as a hostile takeover of the Republican party.
His currency was lies, pretty much based on hatred and racism. Just keep creating enemies (Mexicans, Hispanics, Muslims, Blacks, Gays and lesbians, gun control people, Obama) etc.
He tapped into the fundamental bigotry that a lot of these people carried around inside them, and gave them permission to let out.
What actually blew me away was just how easy it was for him to drag these otherwise ignorant/apathetic people into his camp.
It takes a certain type of genius to pull something like this off. Sadly, however, it very much akin to the kind of genius of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. And we all know where that led.
Once he has these people mobilized as part of his core, he had tons of ammo to start knocking over the other 18 Republican candidates. He did this by a combination of personal attacks, innuendo and name calling.
As his support among the more moderate Republicans grew because of the massive media coverage he was getting, the Republican party was essentially coerced into accepting him as their nominee.
The hypocrisy of this was off the charts. The Republicans, who had been so focused on obstructing Obama for the past eight years, had literally become so obsessed with forming the next government at any cost that they simply held their noses and raised their hands in favor of Trump.
And that was that. Trump Campaign Part 1 completed.
The Hillary Side
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, went through her primary season in a state of abject fear. Her main opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, and his ‘socialist’ leanings gave her a hell of a run for her money.
The tactical marketing error that the Bernie Sanders campaign made came down to the use of one simple word. ‘Socialist’.
Americans, a great many of them at least, have always viewed socialism as communism. And years and years of the Cold War after World War 2 have successfully burned that into the American psyche.
Sanders spent a lot of his primary campaign energy trying to correct this misconception but that was a huge row to hoe.
All Hillary had to do in the beginning was keep dropping the word here and there to create a mini explosion, taking out a piece of the Sanders brand each time she did it.
Despite that rather severe impediment, Bernie Sanders still managed to make it a very close race all the way to the convention. This says to me that if he had not added the world ‘socialist’ to his brand, he actually would have won. And that would have been amazing.
Why? Well, I’ll tell you. Because unlike Hillary whose brand, for better or worse is seen as Wall Street friendly and the person to vote for if you want 4 more years of Obama in a pantsuit, Bernie Sanders was seen as someone who could take Trump apart in a debate, strip him bare and reveal all the corruption and hate that he carried around with him.
It’s called repositioning the competition, which was what Trump had been so successful at doing in the primaries.
The Fix Was In
Sadly, the Democratic National Committee, which is almost but not quite as corrupt as the Republican National Committee, had already decided that going forward with Hillary was the Democratic branding decision and so Bernie was sent packing.
Yes. It was rigged. But politics is a rigged game. And no matter what you decide your brand is as a politician, it had better synch up with what your party thinks your brand should be or you’re fucked.
Trump was the huge exception to this rule. He happened mainly because the Republican party was is such a state of disarray (19 candidates, really?) that Trump just kind of slithered in with the largest core of supporters.
It didn’t matter that the majority of these people were racist, sexist, politically ignorant, pissed off desperados. All the mattered was the numbers. And that was the big branding error they made.
They mistook quantity for quality.
The Final Lap
Now that Trump had the nomination, he had to make some changes in his approach.
No longer was he positioning himself against a rag tag bunch of puny Republicans, but he was up against someone who, for better or worse, knew what they were doing.
Someone who knew how to wait Trump out while he ranted. Who knew how to defend her brand, despite some pretty horrendous allegations that had been made against her during the course of the campaign.
Someone who knew how to attack, based on reality as opposed to Trump’s endless stream of obfuscation, lies and pronouncements of doom for America.
And someone who knew how to do all this without falling apart, knowing that majority of the entire voting public watching.
The One Trick Pony Syndrome
Sadly, Mr. Trump was not able to make these adjustments.
He tried valiantly for the first 20 minutes or so of the first debate. But as his lizard brain slowly started to realize that this was going to to be a lot harder than he thought, he managed, and quite successfully, to revert to form. To use lies, innuendo, accusations and hate mongering, which were, in point of fact the only innate tools he actually had.
This is perfectly understandable for someone who has built their business on bullshitting investors, cheating suppliers, underpaying employees to fatten his own profit margins, leveraging debt, and as was most recently discovered, paying no taxes for the past 18 years.
This One-Trick-Pony syndrome made is extremely easy to Hillary to argue that Trump had neither subtle management skills nor the temperament to run the country.
And she has been leveraging the hell out of that ever since.
Unbelievably, It’s Still Up In The Air
Still, in all, nobody really knows how this election will actually turn out.
The candidates, despite what any sane, logical person might conclude from all everything I have just written, have both actually, at least to this point, managed their brands fairly well.
The key deciding factor is whether Trump will actually be able to step up and compete one on one with Hillary in the next two debates.
The importance of this cannot be understated, because this is where all the undecided, and there are a lot of them (about 40%) voters will be watching closely.
If nothing else, at least it will be interesting from a marketing perspective. And perhaps, totally insane from any other perspective.
PS: I have really kept this piece focused on the candidates, their brands and marketing tactics. I deliberately avoided discussing the news media's role in all this because every time I do, I throw up in my mouth bit, and I would rather avoid that unpleasantness. I have also done a post on this aspect already.
Live From The Igloo In Toronto
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