The majority of Americans have found themselves reeling in shock following Tuesday’s election, no matter their political leanings. With every reliable poll having predicted a Clinton victory by decent margins, most are asking: “what happened?”
While there is still information to gather and analytics to perform, Trump clearly won on the marketing battlefield. Here’s how.
1. Donald Trump had a cohesive, consistent, emotionally-charged battle cry.
In marketing we might call this a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or brand promise. “Make America Great Again” was a message that spoke to millions of Americans. It’s genius, really.
The first rule of marketing is to identify a pain point, amp up that pain, and then offer a solution. Watch any infomercial and you’ll see an extreme version of this.
“Make America Great Again” simultaneously says:
- “America is broken” (a pain point)
- “It wasn’t broken before” (more pain)
- “The Democrats broke it” (this is implied but still there in the undertones – even more pain), and
- “Trump can fix it and get us back to that greatness” (solution to the pain).
That’s a lot of power in just four words. And he plastered those words everywhere. That phrase became a battle cry for those who identify with Trump’s version of a broken America.
Contrast this with Hillary’s campaign. “I’m With Her” and “Stronger Together” just didn’t pack the same punch.
2. Donald Trump’s campaign was polarizing and created controversy.
These attributes always win where marketing is concerned. You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “any PR is good PR” and there is some truth to it. You don’t get attention by playing nice or making lukewarm statements.
The human brain is hardwired to pay more attention to things that are shocking. It’s part of our fight-or-flight response and responsible for why we can’t look away from car accidents, the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus or in this case, Donald Trump.
His brash, over-the-top statements caused controversy, which caused media attention, which caused more controversy and thus the cycle perpetuated itself.
Hillary, on the other hand, played it safe and professional in comparison. And while many would argue those qualities are more admirable in our country’s highest office, they aren’t going to capture attention as powerfully as the polarizing techniques Trump employed.
3. Donald Trump played into every single archetype that makes for a good story.
As we look throughout our history and pop culture, there are four main storylines that occur over and over again:
- The reluctant hero (Han Solo in Star Wars)
- The repentant sinner (Mary Magdalene)
- The savior (Captain America)
- Hometown boy wins big (Slumdog Millionaire)
Analyze any movie, book or public figure and chances are you’ll see one of these as a main storyline. Great marketers also craft these storylines into their messaging all the time. And they are there for a reason — they resonate with humans on a powerful, subconscious level and evoke strong emotion.
In the context of an election, strong emotion leads to action. How did Trump use these tropes to his advantage? Here are just a few examples:
- He played the reluctant hero by being the anti-politician.
- He played the repentant sinner by apologizing and distancing himself from his misogynistic behavior.
- He played the savior by promising to fix a broken America.
- He played the hometown boy who wins big by discussing his (in his view) humble roots, past failures and bankruptcies, and ultimately successes in business.
While each one of these is massively influential in isolation, Trump combined them all for maximum potency.
4. Donald Trump effectively used fear to motivate voters.
Research shows us time and time again that humans are more motivated by avoiding pain than acquiring pleasure. In other words, one of the best ways to motivate people is to amp up their fear.
Trump’s use of fear in his campaign has been well-documented including playing to:
- Fear of Muslims and terrorism
- Fear of illegal immigration
- Fear of attacks on American values
- Fear of jobs going to China
- And the list goes on
Whether you feel the fears Trump utilized are justified or not is up to you. Some examples of fear in marketing include:
- Limited time offer (Fear of missing out)
- “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” (Fear of potential harm)
- The Apple vs. PC ads in the 2000’s (Fear of not being cool)
Using fear goes hand-in hand with identifying and amping pain, as mentioned in point #1 above.
Spotlighting fears worked for Trump — as the election results showed — and it works for marketers all the time.
In the coming days and weeks, we will have more voter demographic data and will be able to take this analysis even further. In the meantime, the 2016 campaign results can be summarized thusly: Ultimately, Trump out-branded, out-messaged, out-polarized, out-inspired and out-marketed his opponent.