Making Advertising Great Again

In this guest post, Darren Fishman breaks down the 8 ‘tremendous, tremendous’ things marketers can learn from Donald Trump.

Throughout his career Donald Trump has been an unrelenting self-promoter. Since the time young Don took over his father’s property developing company, his eponymous ‘Trump’ brand has extended across more categories than you can point a comb at.


There’s been Trump Tower, Trump Hotels, Trump Casino, Trump Winery, Trump Shuttle, Trump National Golf Club, Trump University, Trump Vodka, even Trump Steaks – and he’s hoping to brand the presidency of the United States next with ‘President Trump’.

His approach has certainly proved polarising, but whether you love him or hate him, his profile is, shall we say… ‘huuuuuuge!’ From winning the Republican nomination to taking the contest right up to Hilary Clinton, his campaigns have seen him sweep all before him – against the tide of opinion from the so called political experts.

That means he must be doing something right (amongst all the things that so many say he’s done wrong). So what lessons can we take out of the Donald Trump playbook?

  1. Target unfulfilled markets

Trump recognised there was a tremendous groundswell of people that were over the ‘career’ politicians or “Washington Elites” (as Trump likes to call them). They’re those who appear to be in politics for what they can get out of it, something that many see the Clinton ‘dynasty’ as a paradigm example of.

With Middle America believing that their leaders are out of touch with them, Trump knew they were primed to gravitate towards someone who spoke their language. And Trump literally speaks their language, adopting a tone of voice and style that appeals directly to them and that rejects politics altogether while defining him against the establishment.donald-trump-twitter-target-market

There’s evidence in Australia too, of people’s lack of trust and faith in our own politicians. Witness the revolving door of Prime Ministers of late, the hung parliaments and the ever-growing number of votes for candidates outside those of the two major parties.

So the Trump tactic has been to appeal to the disgruntled masses by being the ultimate anti-politician at a time when the public detests politics.

  1. Be ‘The Don’ of disruption

Donald Trump has perfected the art of disruption during this campaign – and I’m not referring to disrupting Hilary Clinton during the presidential debate!

The fact is, as the ultimate anti-politician, Donald Trump’s persona – for a presidential candidate – comes off as far from presidential. But in his quest to appear as “one of us”, as opposed to a superior we must look up to, that is by design.

He’s disrupted by demonstrating the fact that anyone with enough ego and money can declare themselves a candidate and get free advertising in mainstream media by being outrageous, politically incorrect, and most of all, raw and real.

His trademark disruptive ‘warts and all’ approach, and his freewheeling style devoid of well-crafted speeches and detailed policy proposals, is what has the experts in how politics used to be played continuously underestimating his chances.

  1. Take your line to the limits

Trump didn’t want to go with a campaign line that limited the scope of what he thought he could do for America, or that limited the appeal to only certain demographics.

In Australia we saw the coalition go with a ‘Jobs and Growth’ line and the problem with something like that (in the slippery world of politics) is that it’s very specific and so you can easily be measured on it and held accountable.donald-trump-twitter-make-america-great-again

So Trump’s gone with ‘Make America Great Again’ and with something like that the sky’s the limit. What does ‘great’ mean? Anything! Is it measurable? Not accurately!

So if you need a job, then to ‘Make America Great Again’ means for you reducing unemployment. If you’re concerned about terrorism, then to ‘Make America Great Again’ means increased security and tighter borders. If you’re concerned with the economy, then to ‘Make America Great Again’ means negotiating better trade deals, and the like.

It means whatever the voter wants it to mean, so the lesson is go wide, go lofty, go aspirational and don’t fence your line in. That way it can mean the most number of things to the maximum number of people.

  1. Ditch the detail

H.L. Mencken’s expression “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” has never been more apt than with the Trump campaign.

Trump knows that the general public isn’t that interested in all the details on how he’s going to fix things, they just want to hear that things WILL be fixed – and he’ll ‘Make America Great Again’.

So he’s superficial on the specifics, continually taking about how America is “in a mess”, “it’s a disaster”, “we lose”, “we’re a laughing stock”, etc. The promise then is that as the guy with the glowing business track record, he’s the one who can turn it around. Meanwhile he points the finger at the establishment as those that have gotten America into the current mess. It’s a very easy digestible message distilled down to just ‘them and us’.

  1. Set your social media to ‘always on’

With Trump claiming the mainstream media is biased against him, we’ve seen him be unrelenting on social media, communicating with and mobilising voters in a direct fashion there instead.

He’s unleashed a barrage of short text-based updates, engaging imagery and compelling videos over the past number of months in an effort to circumvent the traditional channels while being able to respond in real time to the endless crises the campaign has seen him embroiled in.

He’s taken ‘always on’ to a new level, even tweeting at 3am when he was refuting the story of the former Miss Universe that he reportedly labeled as “fat”.

  1. Leverage partnerships

Many say that Trump doesn’t represent the values of the Republican Party, and recently many members of the party have refused to endorse him, but should we be surprised? A year or so back many thought that Donald would run as an independent, especially in the instance that he didn’t win the party’s nomination.

With Trump being ‘his own man’ you might wonder why he didn’t do just that. But he saw the value in the leg up and legitimacy that being a representative of one of the major parties gives you. Let’s face it, independents like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson don’t have a hope.

So Trump used the two-party system to his advantage, getting himself into the game and leveraging that partnership to ingratiate himself to a whole pool of loyal Republicans that otherwise may have passed him by.

  1. Repeat it, again, and again, and again

What Donald Trump has become famous for during this campaign has been his sledging of his opponents, and he’s done this effectively by firstly giving them nicknames, and then relentlessly using them whenever referring to his rivals.

So we’ve had ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton, ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz, ‘Little’ Marco Rubio and ‘Crazy’ Bernie Sanders, amongst others.donald-trump-crooked-hilary-twitter

Using these names repeatedly has made them stick soundly in the conscious, or at very least subconscious, minds of American voters to generate a negative perception of his competition. The lesson being to stay on message, and keep hammering it home.

  1. Ambassadors are a risky business

My other points may have painted Trump in a somewhat favourable light, but this one reflects on him not so glowingly. Brand ambassadors can be a risk, and someone like a Donald Trump probably wouldn’t be your first choice.

We’ve already seen brands such as Skittles and Tic Tacs distance themselves when they were each unwittingly drawn into the political narrative through separate controversial statements from Donald and his son Eric.

Mostly due to his comments about Mexican immigration, brands such as Univision, Televisa, Farouk, NBC Universal and Macy’s have all suspended or pulled entirely away from Trump, and the PGA canceled its tournament at the Trump National Golf Club in LA.donald-trump-eating-kfc-on-plane-brand-ambassador

So the lesson is, if you’re investing in a brand ambassador then choose wisely. Alternatively, when they ‘go rogue’ just jump aboard the growing trend for brands to “virtue-signal” and gain PR from distancing themselves from their former asset.

So if Donald Trump has seemingly done so much right with his marketing, does that mean he’ll win? Well, as that great ad man Bill Bernbach famously said, “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

So on November 8, when Americans take part in that massive piece of market research called ‘The Presidential Election’, we’ll discover their opinion of brand ‘Trump’.

Darren Fishman is a Melbourne-based creative director and advertising writer. darrenfishman.com


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