Donald Trump campaign changed advertising forever: Grey Group India’s Raman explains

Published: January 10, 2017 6:04 AM

November, 2016. Donald Trump won the US Presidential elections against all odds. Despite being unpopular, seen as being divisive and running a campaign that was seemingly polarising Americans.

CEO, WEF, World Economic Forum, Donald Trump, Theressa May, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Arvind Panagariya, Ramesh Abhishek, Chandrababu Naidu, ONGC, Kotak Mahindra BankThe jargon of communication models shows us how advertising campaigns and election campaigns are more interlinked than we realise. (AP)

November, 2016. Donald Trump won the US Presidential elections against all odds. Despite being unpopular, seen as being divisive and running a campaign that was seemingly polarising Americans.

This will have significant impact on how brands might change their narratives in the years ahead. The jargon of communication models shows us how advertising campaigns and election campaigns are more interlinked than we realise. Campaigns. Manifestos. Segmentation. Most of our lexicon is borrowed from electioneering. Ergo, there are more learnings from ‘USA 2016’ for us than ever before.

Stop making promises. Have a purpose

Trump took a large stance that appealed to many people even if they didn’t particularly like him. Make America Great Again had more resonance than Making Obamacare more potent. People today want to see what you stand for. Not for what you merely offer them. We Must became larger than I Will. If you have to offer something, offer a blockbuster rousing credo. Not a mere ‘benefit’.

The 2016 elections have shown us that the reason to believe-in is more important than the reason to believe. Goodbye brand promises. Welcome brand purpose.

The youth-myth is finally busted. And dusted

Younger Americans had a lot of opinions but no time! They wasted time chattering a lot on social media. Took sides. Were umbraged, aghast, hurt even. But did not vote! They didn’t have the time to go out and put their ‘money-where-the-mouth-is’.

Unlike the middle-aged, middle class, working Americans who really wanted to see the change. They went out and voted. And that’s how vote shares (and market shares) are built. Make people buy. And the people with more money and less angst are normally the buyers of what you sell. It’s time to separate the buyers from the boys, if you may.

Win fans. Not loyalists

Trump fans spoke for him, defended him, created myths and legends of him. At bars, in restaurants, at churches and at schools. Fans have the power to shut out all things negative about you and faithfully march behind you. It happens with me about Manchester United Football Club. It happened to Trumpmaniacs.

Brands need to learn from Trump. Learn to make fans first. Their passion converts non-believers. Their wallets fund your campaigns exponentially. Their arguments make word-of-mouth an extremely potent medium. And their blind-belief is proven at the election booth as well as the at check-out counters.

Populism is dead. Stop being nice to all

When politics was all about ‘the good guys win at the end’, we saw great lovely people like JFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, David Cameron, etc hold centrestage. Leaders who were inclusive. They wanted to be relevant for all. They wanted to be loved by all. Not surprisingly brands (mirroring the leaders of that time) too followed this pattern. Being goody-two-shoes and not raising hackles were the norm. This continues even today.

What does Trump’s win teach us? That you don’t have to please everybody. As long as your purpose is all encompassing, your brand behaviour need not appease everybody. In fact, the more polarising the brand’s tone and manner, the more fans one might create. Because purpose is larger than populism in today’s world.

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Advertising research must change. Forever.

Every opinion poll got it wrong. Everyone predicted a Trump rout. Every pollster and every dipstick suggested The Donald was imploding. Everybody got it wrong. Why? How?

The problem with polls is that it asks people what they might do in future, at that very precise moment. Based on recent stimuli. Such a waste. Research, as it exists today, cannot predict human behaviour. If stimulus-response was the only factor then Trump should have lost, right? Tax returns, The Mexican Wall, the gender prejudice, the Twitter rants…all stimuli that should have made millions simply detest him. But they didn’t. Because his brand purpose far outweighed the current stimulus.

Donald Trump’s inherent belief that the system was rotten was not out of research but from his observations and genuine emotions about the US. His purpose was a simply articulated Let’s Make America Great Again. His team did not test this out. They kept at it, even when the odds were against him. His speech writers did not keep changing the narrative post every opinion poll. They had the confidence to see the narrative through. Till the last vote had been counted.

Are marketers and research agencies going to learn anything from this?

Modern marketing and advertising is based on risk-aversion. CYA, if you please. We research everything — opportunities, relevance, tone-and-manner… everything. The result? We take the middle path on defining our purpose. We research this diluted purpose statement. We create stimuli to explain it. We research the stimuli. We change the narrative after every focus group and every in-depth interview. We water down our own purpose repeatedly to please everybody. So we have a plethora of play-safe brands modelled on what people might say rather than what I really want to stand for.

So, here’s to 2017. Where brands will find a larger purpose. When brands will co-opt consumers to sign up into this larger purpose. Where brands will stop being for everybody and be all about for that big purpose. Happy New Beginnings!

The author, Arun Raman is national planning head, Grey Group India

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