Essays at the intersection of marketing and life.
For all of his false tan and crazy hair, Donald is a human being in a world of animatrons, puppets and zombies.
So, firstly, let me acknowledge that mine is a minority point of view. Most polls and pundits have assessed the American elections thus: Trump will get his comeuppance well and good when he faces a broad, and less radical, American electorate – and Hillary will absolutely trounce him in the most satisfying rout, to be especially relished by the ascendancy.
Of course, one can make a strong case for such a view, despite that it is necessarily crystal ball-ery. My assertion that Trump will indeed win the presidency is, for the moment, also possibly right. And here’s why: Hillary uses the wiles of Politics to win the race, and Mister Trump uses the principles of Marketing. This election is a fight between the power of policy versus the power of framing; the power of rationale versus the power of emotion. I fear the Marketing man may prevail.
Let’s look at the evidence.
Trump has employed that number one tactic of marketing innovation – rule breaking. Traditionally, politicians bent over backwards to demonstrate their coherence. That is to say, what I said last week is consistent with what I say this week; what I did last year is in line with what I propose doing next year. Because, in the fairytale that is politics until 2015, electable people don’t say one thing and do another. The assumption is that consistency has value for the electorate.
Not so fast, says Trump. And he’s right. Because our daily human behaviour tells us that this is not true. It is inconsistent to buy yogurt with 0% fat, and believe that the wonderful taste magically got there without substitute calories, or substitute chemicals and the eating of it makes me healthier. 0% fat is a narrow truth, attached to a bigger lie – the proposition that 0% yogurt actually improves health. Because it doesn’t. But we don’t care.
Trump parades his half truths and falsities with casual abandon, because he knows that consistency is an invention of the Establishment. It is not the crux of how ordinary, busy people make decisions. And anyway, consistency is illusory. We all know that’s not how life works, and surely not how our own lives play out.
The Donald, ever since the inception of his campaign (which probably originated in his orange, under-rated head over ten years ago), has run as a businessman, not as a politician. Through this important decision of framing, Trump has poured scorn on the political classes, as they have manifestly disappointed us for decades. He has positioned himself as other. He is Greek strained yogurt; he is the Mac generation; he is the organic movement; he always, always sets himself apart from ‘that lot’. This is a truism of marketing – the ascendant idea in any market is always sick, ever vulnerable. Trump’s wile is to find and express that weakness in politicians.
And what is it? Well, politicians have been lying to their electorate for the longest time. We know this when we see them dodge questions, when we hear them parse words carefully, when we witness them deny things that are patently true.
What Trump has exposed is that the Establishment has been up to all kinds of shenanigans, but in a fashion so gentile that journalism has not particularly cared to call them out. Because journalism is the Establishment too. Tragically, politicians have been lying, in great part, to remain consistent. Even though consistency is prized mostly by them alone.
Trump has broken the code of decorum that has kept this facade in play. Lyin’ Ted. Crooked Hillary. Goofy Elizabeth Warren. He has struck a new tone, making sure the attention comes to him. This is an established marketing strategy, of course. Patrón did it, in reverse, when it started a conversation about tequila which was all about elegance, not frat party shots. Tesla did it when it changed the automotive conversation from changing one’s social position, to changing the world. Family Guy uncovered a layer of coarse, tickling humour which felt familiar but unarticulated in mainstream entertainment.
Trump runs wild in the American political landscape, like a Thai train moving through a food market; move out of the way, or you’ll be crushed.
It is remarkable to see how he uses emotion to win. For all of his false tan and crazy hair, Donald is a human being in a world of animatrons, puppets and zombies. Because he relies on his own resources (he has declared himself, cannily, as his own principal advisor) he has the great benefit of presenting like a real person. He is his own man – no matter how much of a bully this might be. Rubio was decidedly less so. Cruz was more in the hands of God and ambition than his own humanity. Jeb (with an exclamation mark) was probably his own man too, but simply found to be less interested in being President than his family may have thought. Jeb’s most on-point punctuation was always a question mark.
Marketing calls for human, real connection between brands and consumers, ideas and people, politics and the electorate. People choose people, not policies and not politicians. Trump has understood this.
Hillary is less powerful in this regard. She is the logic politician. Yes, she is the logical choice. But will she prevail?
Trump is no fool. Being a narcissist, he has intuitively understood how to keep attention all to himself. Being a bully, he has no compunction at dealing the underhand blow. Being an innovator, he has spent his life disregarding the rules. Because politeness is expected, and marketing demands surprise.
So, how to deny this dangerous, wily man the presidency?
My best hope of defeating Trump is that Hillary employ the principles of marketing in return. That she change the tone of political babble to something more human. That she change the tenor of her rhetoric to something more caring. That she call out Trump’s base bullying, misogyny and racism in a human, emotive manner. That she place not her policies, but her humanity and character before the electorate – seeking not to be perfect, but to be real.
Hillary can win only when she sheds the lies of politicians, revealed by Donald’s trumpery.