Well…given the polarizing nature of the 2016 presidential election, it’s a fair bet that families will spend as much time on Thanksgiving “talking turkey” as they will devouring it. The phrase “talking turkey” has an interesting history, with some tracing it back to colonial times to describe when colonists and Indians would barter over wild turkeys.
Since then, the phrase has been primarily associated with stating something frankly and matter-of-factly. I’m sure there will be plenty of frank comments at the Thanksgiving dinner table about how a Donald Trump presidency will impact the stock market. The energy sector. Foreign relations. The economy. How about the cupcake industry? Ok, so Red Velvet cupcake sales will probably not be materially affected by a new president, but you get my point: When a seismic news event occurs, an avalanche of commentary soon follows on how, in this case, a Trump presidency will impact every nook and cranny of society.
Rather than speculate in those areas, the focus of this post will be to view Trump’s victory through a publicity lens. Is there a “teachable moment” for the marketing and public relations industry given the uniqueness of how Trump used his brand and marketed himself? What does his victory say about the value of the estimated millions upon millions of dollars in “free” earned media coverage national and local media lavished upon him for several months, reducing his need to spend on traditional TV, radio, print and online advertising?
Depending on which way you bend politically, each person will no doubt have their own opinion on why Trump won. Either way, ad and marketing agencies across the country are re-evaluating what they know and thought they knew about consumers in the wake of the election results. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal cites how ad giant McCann Worldgroup assembled top execs to dissect what Trump’s victory means from an advertising perspective. The broader article theme postulates on whether brands have overlooked the same rural voters who fell under the big data and polling radar to propel Trump in key battleground states.
The uniqueness of the presidential campaign offers some insights for marketing, advertising and PR agencies wondering if consumer behavior will match voter behavior in the coming months and years.
Modesty doesn’t always sell
Imagining how and why Trump’s message resonated with so many people harkens me to a person watching infomercials at 3am. Deep down, you know that the BackMassage 3000 can’t possibly cure your back pain in five minutes or less, but its three o’clock in the goddamn morning. You’re tired, and everything else you’ve tried hasn’t worked, so why not give it a chance?
Trump as a brand was not modest about what he thought he could accomplish during the campaign, and the results suggest many voters responded favorably to his ambitious promises. Perhaps some knew deep down that he wasn’t going to be able to deliver on all of it, but like the BackMassage 3000, it sounded bigger and bolder than anything they heard before.
Jargon can obscure the brand promise
As an acronym, keep it simple stupid (KISS) has been applied to endless use cases, from politics to sports to sales. KISS traces back to a U.S. Navy design principle in the 1960s, and has served as a reminder to avoid adding unnecessary complexity. Trump kept his messages very simple; and these messages were either embraced or reviled by voters because the messages were easy to understand. Brands often complicate the product message with jargon that may be technically accurate, but falls flat when it comes to establishing a connection with everyday users.
It pays to be memorable
And then there was one. The Republican party began the 2016 presidential campaign with 17 candidates. My bet is that if voters were asked to describe 1-2 unique ideas that the other candidates had – whether it was Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry or Jeb Bush – they’d be scratching their heads for quite some time.
Think about the commoditization of budget to mid-level hotel chains, who typically offered similar rooms, at similar prices, with similar amenities. How does a traveler pick one over the other? It can often come down to creating some calling card that is memorable. For Hampton Inn, it was the Belgian waffles at the free breakfast buffet. Guests remembered the Belgian Waffles, and returned to Hampton Inn just for the breakfast.
Trump marketed campaign promises that were very, very different from other candidates, which made these promises memorable and, by default, Trump memorable with voters struggling to figure out how each of the 17 candidates was difference from one another.
You can’t build a brand overnight
One of the most overlooked but critical elements of Trump’s success is that he had spent decades building an oversized brand that could be immediately activated for his campaign. This was critical, because while 17 candidates on the GOP sides sounds like a lot, many ran out of time and money to develop brand awareness – not only around who they were but what they represent. For every Jeb Bush and Chris Christie entering the fray with baseline brand awareness, there was a Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Scott Walker and Jim Gilmore – folks known inside the beltway but certainly not to most Americans. Trump came in with an established brand known to probably most every single voter, and the media fed this brand throughout the campaign with free publicity that negated his need to advertise heavily or introduce himself to voters.
Big data has its limits
Marketers and advertisers are stepped in big data today, but the previously referenced WSJ article makes another good point: Big data may not be telling them everything they need to know, and if this data skips over important source blocks such as rural voters, then it is by default flawed data. Finally, if the data misses key demographic segments, brands might make assumptions about who their customers aspire to be. Rural voters may not aspire to have the latest iPhone that celebrities and athletes use, but may just want reliable phone and data service that can be hard to come by in rural areas.
Will Donald make sales of Red Velvet cupcakes great again? Only time will tell.