Donald Trump is no stranger to marketing. The real-estate mogul has attached his name to extravagant hotels, premium steaks, men’s formal wear, home furnishings, spring water and even cologne. Still, there are those who would argue that he’s completely failed at marketing himself as leader of the free world.
The concept of a larger-than-life personality as the figurehead for American politics isn’t new. From Barack Obama’s renowned public speaking prowess and cool dad image to Teddy Roosevelt finishing his campaign speech after being shot in the chest, American presidents have always been proponents of their own brand. What is it about Trump’s rhetoric, then, that is so different?
New to Politics, Not to Marketing
Certainly, a successful presidential campaign is an example of effective self-promotion. Except that winning the presidency isn’t the end-goal for a politician. Does Trump consider himself a politician? The answer to that question might be the key to understanding how Trump measures his own success.
The nature of being president is that it makes one a politician of some sort, but as his administration is quick to point out, Trump’s own naivety — and possibly disdain — towards the topic of politics is what makes his tactics so different.
Unlike the corporate world, where you might sweep the occasional questionable move under the rug so long as it doesn’t raise any proverbial red flags, everything you do as president is scrutinized. Your methods are seen as accepted. If you’re a marketing manager in the time of Trump, the old rulebook just went out the window.
If you’ve spent enough time following American politics to catch a few episodes of Fox News or Meet The Press, you’re familiar with the way we expect politicians to communicate. Even when they offend us, we expect our politicians to put a bow on it, soften the blow. We expect them to observe a sort of etiquette. Trump doesn’t do that.
Trump has stuck to the same techniques that landed him in the White House. Plain speaking, appealing to emotion and telling people what they want to hear. Where other politicians would craft a clever message to skirt around a sensitive topic, Trump is direct, but inconsistent. That may read like a biased statement, but there’s no shortage of evidence available.
Master of Distraction
The man’s ability to command the public eye can’t be understated. Regardless of how you feel about him, as an American citizen who subscribes to the mainstream media, it is nearly impossible to avoid the Donald’s presence in everyday life. And, for all the attention he gets, Trump never misses an opportunity to bash journalistic institutions.
This fixation on Trump has allowed him to hoist the public eye in one direction or another. One example of this is the conversation on Trump’s inauguration attendance numbers, which was quashed by allegations of voter fraud, which Trump was reportedly investigating. The results of that investigation haven’t surfaced yet, but it skillfully moved the public’s attention away from a sore spot for the new President.
No Room for Competition
During his campaign, Trump’s unorthodox comments and outtakes earned him so much free publicity that his competitors missed out on significant media coverage. Media outlets drew larger audiences by giving Trump the coverage. Trump’s political machine faced a Clinton campaign with orders of magnitude and more funding, and he beat it by flooding communication channels.
Trump’s now-famous social media use defies all manner of analysis. The majority of social media users are not Trump supporters, however, Trump has managed to find a conduit for his message that amplifies it millions of times over, for free. Whether you agree with him or not, he can reach you.
The generation most associated with social media, millennials, might be some of the most vulnerable to Trumps ubiquitous marketing. As they mature and take up the reins of political responsibility, Trump’s rhetoric has caused a stir in millennial circles. A recent study by Wakefield found millennials nearly twice as likely to know a couple affected by Trump’s politics than the average American.
Relating to the Common Man
At colleges across the nation, marketing students learn how to target customers and drive results. When it comes to marketing campaigns, there are many angles you can take. Sportswear companies and automakers often use sex appeal while expensive winemakers focus on exclusivity. The industry term “snob appeal” is a generic term for tactics that involve making the audience feel superior.
Many of Trump’s competitors used snob appeal — or were perceived to have used snob appeal as part of their campaigns. There’s no denying Trump vs. Clinton was a tumultuous run-off marked by unsavory tactics, but it was Trump’s decision to take the side of the common man that led him to victory. That’s not a first for a politician, but, because Trump isn’t a career politician, the move looked genuine.
Acceptable vs. Ethical
In the months following his election, Trump has continued to employ many of these tactics. His endorsement has inspired others to try them, and his opponents have questioned their ethics.
But, for a corrupt institution to question the ethics of one tactic when the institution itself is corrupt, poses some challenges. Trump supporters see many of Trump’s tactics as honest compared to the skillful maneuvering of his fellow politicians, which is often executed to achieve similar ends.
Trump will ask forgiveness, not permission. He will do what he wants until someone tries to stop him, and his promotion of this philosophy in the way he markets himself is no mistake. The common man must also adopt this philosophy in life, and that parallel lends a curious hubris to Trump’s approach.
Whether you are a fan of his tactics or not, you can’t deny that, in 2016, Donald Trump changed the face of political marketing forever. Not a single political race will ever be the same in the wake of this presidency because Trump proved you don’t have to practice Washington’s ethics to earn America’s vote.