Donald Trump’s campaign may seem unprecedented, but the marketing tricks used to shape his presidential brand are anything but revolutionary.
In today’s wired world, a public figure’s every wardrobe malfunction, poorly articulated thought, or questionable gesture can be captured on a smartphone, shared via social media, and made instantly accessible in perpetuity. As a result, publicity managers have focused on eliminating any chance of a public faux pas along the campaign trail, orchestrating every detail of the candidate’s brand. Often, a combination of advertising, social media, and direct marketing are used to supplement traditional public appearances with consistent and personalized voter communication.
The 2016 presidential election is an especially fascinating study in brand building, with Republican nominee Donald Trump leading one of the most unexpected and controversial campaigns in recent history. How did he get here? Let’s take a look:
It’s difficult to argue that Trump has run a particularly tight or focused campaign in the year since declaring his candidacy. And yet, what began as an amorphous political brand with often contradictory messaging has evolved over time to embrace the brash and combative tone of the candidate himself.
Fear and hatred have become the tenets of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and the candidate’s speeches, social media presence, and paid advertising paint a dystopian picture of a nation teeming with terrorists, overrun with criminals, and on the brink of economic decline. Trump, of course, is the proposed hero in this apocalyptic narrative. He’s here to “Make America Great Again,” a dynamite campaign slogan that taps into the widely held belief that America is headed in the wrong direction.
The Truth Isn’t Everything
Despite the media’s efforts to expose Trump’s persistent inaccuracies, polls reveal that his voter base seems to care very little about his blatant dishonesty. Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina described the phenomenon to Newsweek, saying: “To the extent that people are using Trump as a way of venting about their general unhappiness, trust is irrelevant…They’re just trying to send a message that they’re tired of being taken for granted and screwed by both sides.”
Indeed, the Trump campaign has miraculously convinced working-class white people that Trump is one of them, here to win back perceived losses: jobs taken by immigrants, tax dollars funneled toward ineffective social programs, and opportunities withheld by “elites.” Never mind Trump’s own socioeconomic background – it’s the ideas he’s peddling that are winning over voters.
As Kimberly Whitler writes for Forbes, “In marketing, brand positions are quantitatively tested to identify which are strongest in terms of: 1) communicating what matters to consumers, and 2) delivering an idea that is superior to competitive product positions. Holding all else equal, a superior brand position will lead to greater market share – or in this case, more votes.”
Say what you will about his methods, but Donald Trump has harnessed powerful, widespread anxieties and positioned his campaign as their only available antidote. He’s leveraged feelings of disenfranchisement, resentment toward the political establishment, and deep-seated racial resentments and molded his brand position around their continued exploitation.
The winner of this election will be, in some sense, a successful marketer. But Trump must continue to expand his somewhat niche brand into one with broader appeal across party lines, a move that risks weakening his undiluted message. Will Trump’s branded campaign carry him all the way to the White House? We’ll have to wait until November to find out.
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(Image Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr)