How Trump won the US election

Donald Trump won the US presidential election in part by knowing his audience and coming up with an effective marketing slogan, writes JWT NZ managing director Simon Lendrum.

Who’s your audience and what do you know about them?

Trump worked this out pretty quickly. Outside of the liberal elite in major cities in America, there’s a mass of good old working Joes who’ve had the stuffing knocked out of them. The two charts below highlight this very well. He knew he’d never appeal to those already politically engaged. So he needed to understand his potential audience quickly. He probably did instinctively. But here’s the data.

Firstly, wages have stagnated and are roughly the same as the ‘80s. Prices, of course, are not the same as the ‘80s. So to make up the gap, Americans have been borrowing more to make ends meet:

Secondly, while wages have remained static, GDP growth has continued to rise. To put it simply, someone’s making a lot of money, and it’s not flowing through to the everyman’s pocket:

So, there’s a lot of people feeling poorer than they used to, more indebted, less appreciated, and pissed off that their work is lining someone else’s wallet.

That’s a pretty good tension point to leverage.

Be single minded

Politics is often complicated and multi-layered – it’s why so many of us find it boring. Trump skated right over the need for policy and detailed plans for education, policing, and foreign policy. His target audience don’t much care for that stuff either. They just think that the America they used to know has gone.

So he set about producing a single-minded campaign idea.

The big idea in one sentence

Make America Great Again.

What makes an idea successful?

For an idea to have the best chance of success, it needs to be:

  • Distinct from the competition

Hillary couldn’t suggest that America wasn’t still great – she’s been in the ruling class for the best part of 20 years. To concede things were broken would be to accept blame. So the idea is distinct from the competition and ownable.

  • Relevant to the target audience

Hell, yes. America has gone to the dogs. Let’s get it back to where it used to be before all these politicians messed it up.

  • True to the product

Hmmm. Trickier to say with a straight face, but yes, if all these politicians have screwed things up so bad, perhaps it’s time to let a businessman have a go. At least he’ll be a man of action, he’ll get things done.

The idea, of course, was also blindingly simple. Active, a call to action, and something that people could get very easily. It fits on a hat. Literally.

Hillary needed better communications advice. Stronger, together. That’s not very punchy in comparison is it? Feels a bit defensive, weak, all the things the audience don’t want.

Data is a guide, not the answer to everything

We’re constantly told that data is everything. If it can’t be measured, it’s not worth doing. Digital is where it’s at because we can see it work straight away. Well, the polls got it wrong every single time. Here’s the issue when we get too wedded to data and ignore empirical evidence that we see, hear and feel. So, if TARP data feels wrong, or the balance of a campaign architecture between broadcast and digital feels out of whack, or you can’t align foot traffic data to what you’re actually seeing, trust your gut. The data can be, and often is, wrong. 

Emotion trumps (sorry) logic

We all know this, but so often ignore it. In marketing, we get hung up on the detail, on the channel, and on trying to appeal to everyone. But if we tap in to emotion the rest is academic. We know fizzy drinks have loads of sugar, but we love the taste. We know smoking and drinking are bad for us, but they make the end of a day complete. We know Trump’s an asshole, but he might just make life better. Sometimes logic doesn’t come into it.

Simon Lendrum is managing director of JWT NZ.
This story first appeared on StopPress.