Five Marketing Takeaways From This Crazy Presidential Election
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
And make no mistake: it’s been difficult to find positive aspects of this grueling election season, but marketers take heed: we’ve been given the gift that keeps on giving. Witness all the branding, advertising and other dos and so-do-not-dos we’ve seen this election cycle.
Here are five stand outs. They also speak directly to the candidates’ values and vulnerabilities.
Hillary Clinton’s unpopular logo
Remember that less-than-stellar debut? Everyone was suddenly a graphic designer and had an opinion. It was too plain; it was ridiculously old fashioned. It looked like a mash of arrows. It was even officially trashed. But Hillary was resolute to her commitment to the logo and did not back down and change it. Remember when Airbnb was crucified for their logo? They kept it – but this is the exception not the rule. Gap, Coke, and other brands all fell prey to public discourse about their graphic sensibilities and new brand identity. What message does that send about your company and your brand?
Branding taglines: they work!
Every company needs a tagline and so does every politician? Some say Hillary’s “Stronger Together” is as uninspired and uninteresting as her logo, but it’s a quick hit about what she’s fighting for – a unified country. Trump’s theme is “Make America Great Again” in his best attempt to be folksy and send a clear message to his voter. But what exactly is #MAGA referring to? Segregation? 1776? That’s the “MAGIC” of #MAGA – it’s open to interpretation by his true believers. As an awkward punctuation mark, Trump consistently sports a MAGA baseball hat paired with a suit and red power tie. Which leads us to our next topic…
Damage to the Trump Brand
No other election has seen the circus atmosphere as this one. And what better way to usher it in than a businessman known for his showmanship, brashness, and hucksterism. Though Donald Trump has both collected and nauseated and millions of voters with his polarizing rhetoric, it’s become clear that he’s also permanently tarnished his brand. This is definitely not a case of “Any PR is good PR.” In addition to his divisive popularity, this election also brought out his dirty laundry out in the public for a wash: failed businesses, tax evasion, proclivity for suing people, sexual misconduct. The list goes on. Trump Hotel sales are down even before the election is over. He’s even done damage to his daughter’s successful clothing line. So what happens after the election? He’s lost his well-heeled consumers but gained lower-income fans that can’t afford his brand but who will flock to his much-hyped “Trump TV” or whatever else he cooks up. But no one will ever look at the Trump name in gold the same again.
Hillary’s marketing tactics aren’t so different than our own
Everyone talks about Hillary’s strong “ground game” – they should see her online presence. As someone in marketing and has a low tolerance for overly-zealous campaigns, it’s been a challenge to stay on Hillary’s marketing list. With the regularity of daily emails, texts, and phone calls from multiple sources, I tried to turn down the volume – no such luck. The marketing faucet is either on or off. But given the importance and short-term of this election, I summoned the tolerance of a saint. The campaign employs typical B2C/B2B email tactics, with subject lines with “Re:” as if they were responding to my email (oldest trick in the book); guilt attempts “Can We Count On You, Janice?”; and even “personal” letters from President Obama, Joe Biden, and other political superstars. The HRC campaign get points for their veracity, volume and variety to get my attention. But they get knocked for their seemingly blind-eye to the communication avalanche. In the end, both campaigns have had their email marketing pros and cons.
“Market Research” aka Polling
The media loves polls more than anyone and the public gobbles it up – no matter how valuable it is. After every bombshell announcement of the election cycle – whether it’s the FBI doing further Clinton private server investigation or Donald Trump’s famous Access Hollywood bus ride, daily WikiLeaks, or women suing Trump for sexual harassment, It felt more like an insane sporting event: Monday Hillary: 1; Trump: 0. By Wednesday the score is reversed in the others’ favor for talking points at their next rally (we can also thank our illustrious media for rapt attention no matter if rumor or proven fact). Bottom-line is that polls are overvalued sentiment throughout the election. Like brands, measuring customer opinions should have a before and after – not the equivalent of a constant heart monitor. This creates a skewed data points that have no relevance if the pulse is taken on a daily basis.
Crisis Communications is Alive and Well
With the lowest likability ever for presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, whether the Trump or Clinton campaign, each of their crisis comms person isn’t just on speed dial, but I suspect perched next to them 24/7. There hasn’t been a week, day, or sometimes hour where the PR spin room wasn’t summoned for either candidate. Why? Both candidates have lots of bad PR on irregularly-regular basis. For Clinton, it’s a legacy of attacks dating back to her husband’s presidency, but “emails” is the word that creates the drip-drip every single day. Then there’s WikiLeaks and a host of other perceived missteps and mistakes. For Trump, the light shining on his pre-politics life that is dark as night: the many sordid details about his business dealings, personal behaviors, and temperament that allows him to send rabid tweets at 3am. Ironically there were so many crisis moments for both candidates, that as a public, we tended to become accustomed to the drama of the campaign and even non-plussed at times. Crisis communications became normal news of the day. This is not where you want your brand to be.
Remember Scott Adams of the comic strip “Dilbert” fame? He’s famous for something else: he is a persuasion expert (who knew?!). When Trump was inching closer to nabbing the Republication nomination, Adams did the talk show circuit to explain how this unthinkable candidate could possibly make it to the top of the GOP ticket. Think: “Crooked Hillary” “Little Marco” and all the other short nicknames Trump developed that we remember. It makes an impact. Adams outlines all of the persuasion techniques used by Trump quite effectively on the human brain. Marketing is all about appealing to emotions. Trump takes it to an extreme with his base – and now we know the science behind why it works.
But I’ve saved my most powerful marketing lesson of all for last, and it’s really short: go vote.