Nothing exemplifies brand supremacy better than President Donald J. Trump.
20th-century brands focused on technicalities, while today branding is attuned to identity, exploring the why and how rather than the what or where.
Millennials born during the epoch of the New Democrats believed that neither 9/11 nor the initial global financial collapse could destabilize confidence. From the distance of the Internet, despite pixelated screens all appeared whole. Yet up close, society was fracturing.
Pre-Trump, US presidential campaigns ran along a trusted formula, promoting typical party political promises. Candidates acted as the voices of broadly unified parties.
Conglomerates painted quaint pictures of responsible, caring corporate organizations. Yet despite PR, the endless roll-call of corporate double standards, along with stories of disgraced religious, celebrity, political and social leaders left people deeply skeptical.
Even Barack Obama saving America from the financial abyss left millions out of pocket and out of a home, reinforcing growing cynicism towards believable branded promises.
By Obama’s first campaign, which capitalized on Shepard Fairley’s “Hope” poster, brands were exploiting millennials’ urge for constant stimulation and distraction. Image-led social campaigns and pithy hashtags amplified short attention spans. Sensationalized “post-truth” replaced facts. Sound bites became tweets. Swipes of screens replaced human touch.
Meanwhile, baby boomers’ understanding of how enterprise or loyalty was rewarded with home ownership and choice imploded. Feeling equally commoditized, both generations asked, “Who am I?” Naked distrust in the establishment gave a voice to fervent cries for individualism.
Where there is a detachment, brands bridge gaps.
Trump entered office with an approval rating of just under 40% (ABC News). Following George W. Bush’s incompetent emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,245 people dead in its wake, costing an estimated $108 billion worth of property damage, Bush’s approval rating was 43% Yet Trump spoke the language of the guy in the locker room, bar, workplace and diner. He knew how to work the system (“the swamp”), treating it with the contempt equally felt by America’s credit-busted, overlooked Midwest states.
Trump’s demographic had to grin and bear 24/7 news feeds of school shootings, factory closures, teenage suicides, desperate war veterans and terrorism. The world appeared increasingly dangerous.
Even eight years of Obama’s hope could not heal the divide between the haves and have-nots. On the other hand, Trump’s frank brand of hope was forged in the American business school of hard knocks.
He was a Davy Crocket/Steve Jobs/ John Wayne populist figurehead.
Sure, he had been “burnt.” A loudmouth, yes... but, it all reflected the cut-throat world. Like his demographic Trump had won and lost opportunities. Like Rocky Balboa, he kept standing right back up again.
This contender could believably create Made In America jobs.
The more opponents stressed Trump’s colorful brand against the gray of conventionality, the stronger his marque became.
Global brands nurture distinguishable voices. Even when the establishment concluded Trump’s populist voice would end his candidacy, his ethnocentric supporters simply took his recalcitrant behavior as underscoring an unswervingly authentic brand.
During the presidential campaign, the hoopla wasn’t just confined to Clinton vs. Trump, but Trump vs. his own party – and the world. (Hollywood couldn’t write a better defender of home-grown, unquenched American hope).
The advertising-starved media lapped up his arrogance. Trump’s thoughts and tweets went global. He was media ratings nectar. The more disgruntled the Left, or irked the Right, the greater the sponsorship dollars. Rival advertising budgets couldn’t match such exposure.
Democrats and Republicans alike provided wind to the wings of their opponent – one man: Trump. Inadvertently, their fixation on discrediting him clarified Trump’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Without them, particularly Hillary Clinton, Trump may not have pulled it off.
Taking a “wrecking ball” to corporate America, Trump took care of his own. Unlike the high-rise gray corporate mausoleums of Wall Street, Trump’s kitschy hotels, casinos and residential buildings, frequently clad in gold, brusquely reflected a branded vision deeply embedded into the American consciousness: anyone with guts can make it in this town.
Perhaps some of the man’s Midas touch could rub off on his credit- stretched electorate? Trump’s brand slogan “Make America Great Again” addressed a human constant: irrespective of circumstances, people often feel they are missing out on something. It’s a basic marketing insight as old as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: a consumer will never finally assail the pinnacle of complete satisfaction. (If they did, there would be no more market).
Clinton’s “stronger together” could have advertised a kitchen towel product. Trump focused on jobs, the economy; threats to American identity.
Clinton’s message appeared to be about the rights of some guy in a dress to go to the toilet.
Beyond politics, Trump’s brand heritage will always be associated with money and power. Trump reflects a well-established international perception of “brand America” perhaps best exemplified by Walt Disney.
Like Trump, Disney had a clear brand vision. Like Trump, Disney’s brand was stamped on everything connected to the vision. Both worked the system. As with Trump, Disney exploited the new media of his time – television, broadcasting weekly updates on his greatest all-American branded vision; Disneyland. Trump tweeted.
Today’s Disneyland(s) are Trump casinos and hotels, in America and beyond. Defying conformity, he resisted a complete divestiture from his company (but conceded not to sell White House merchandise at his hotels and that visiting dignitaries’ fees for staying in his DC hotel would be donated to the White House.
Move over Hilton and Marriot, this is hospitality PR on a global head of state level.
The Trump effect was beguiling.
Still only part constructed, Trump’s Uruguay condominium saw a 20% surge in business. The branded DC hotel raised prices for its least expensive cocktail ($24). Trump’s presidential inauguration ceremony even passed the building (free worldwide brand coverage).
Foreign investors helped Trump-branded properties surge in popularity (up 35%).
Research firm Brand Keys discovered that a president-elect’s name attached to a piece of real estate or golf club added 45% value to a property. (The average A-list celebrity name typically adds 12% to 15%).
And that was before Donald had sworn on Lincoln’s Bible.
While Jobs, Disney, Gates, Kroc, Winfrey, Boeing, Hearst, Carnegie or even Rockefeller never made president, Trump did.
Providing Trump delivers, especially creating US jobs and building the economy, and keeps his finger on the pulse of the people rather than his hands on parts of the female anatomy, Trump’s personal brand equity could rise even higher.
Who knows, in four years’ time his marketing team may consider adding one more word to their chief’s political slogan: “Make America Even Greater.”
Or America could end up placing him second. (Which oddly enough in branding terms also has its advantages).