Yesterday, I prepared a piece about the anticipated Hillary Clinton win. What a difference nine hours makes.
Despite all the sophisticated big data, the huge political advertising budgets of the Clinton camp, the faceless pollsters who number-crunched rather than listened to the unspoken, authentic voice of the people – in the end Donald Trump won.
So why, from a branding perspective, did a reported sexist, racist narcissist defy all predictions? Perhaps the regular American saw what a mess the world has become – despite all the propaganda suggesting the contrary. Looking for example to the UK, they got the impression that its identity had been decimated by an open-door policy leading to the country’s spiritual, commercial, social and political foundations becoming at best “in transition” and at worst, in tatters.
They saw Europe down, despondent and divided.
They looked at how former hard-working middle- classes around the world are now penniless. They saw millennials with university educations receive little if any security in terms of jobs, homes of their own and more. They felt pity for youth’s naivety and wanted to give them a chance to look forward before it was too late.
They saw the “made in America” brand erode.
They could no longer settle for globalization making America increasingly a service rather than production nation.
They recognized that this was the “last chance saloon” for baby-boomers with experience and hindsight to be heard.
They saw welfare systems abused, stretched and failing.
They saw Obamacare make big insurance brands richer, at the expense of the people.
They saw a president who promised hope end up helpless against Congress.
They witnessed how radicalism had used political correctness as a human shield to slowly defeat former notions of compassion, good will and resolve.
They saw veterans get cast aside.
They saw the “one percent” build a wall of conceit against everyone else.
They watched heads bowed to smartphone screens while churches remained empty.
They saw (rightly or wrongly) a threat to their rights to protect their families against increasing violence. They watched news about terrorists in the hallways of Europe and worried about the bogeyman reaching their doorsteps.
They felt – like so many on the planet– like a forgotten, cuckolded generation.
Clinton ran a campaign. Trump led a movement.
One of the biggest mistakes Clinton made was to jeer at Trump supporters, as opposed to listening to them. You don’t have to be a social psychologist to understand that the more you marginalize a group, the stronger and more defiant that group becomes.
While Clinton was running a campaign, Trump was leading a movement.
But what kind of leader is this guy? No experience.
Possibly Americans were willing to forgive all of it simply because beneath the rhetoric they recognized a fresh figure, untainted by politics. Trump appeared willing to fight their cause to earn respect once more by the world as contenders. Sure, in terms of politics he was rookie. Sure he landed questionable uppercuts in business. Sure he spoke his mind. For certain he was brash – even crude. But those precise qualities made Trump the forgotten people’s heavyweight champion. For them, he was a real Cagney, Brando, Wayne, Stallone – an all-American tough guy with a heart, rather than an apprentice without a clue.
Great branding is much deeper than superficial advertising, frivolous social media pages or “gal-power” tunes crooned by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga or Madonna.
It understands and reaches the hearts of the people. As proven by this result, people’s fears, loves, ambitions, self-esteem and so on are far more complex than trendy algorithms.
In short, what people think is always very different from what they say. (Consider your own thoughts at work as your boss ignores you – yet again).
We are a cynical species. We believe that like big businesses, most politicians are corrupt – it’s the way it is. Clinton was potentially heading into the White House with a mile-high stack of alleged misdemeanors hanging over her head. Even the Clinton Foundation was not fully transparent. At least Trump was a new kid in town – somehow for the American voter, his misdemeanors felt cleaner. He was after all a businessperson – you don’t get far in business by being “nice.” Maybe the American people felt Trump was exactly what was needed for today– someone who could offer a hand of friendship, with the threat of repercussions if that friendship was abused. Trump was the lesser of two evils.
So now America will celebrate the promise to be great again. Like them, we all wait to see whether the hangover following those celebrations will last a month or drag on for four years.
Either way, we enter interesting times not just in terms of the divide between Western civilization and the East, but the inner conflict of who we are and what we can become.
The writer is a branding journalist and author of ‘Brand Psychology’ www.jonathangabay.com