It was an unconventional US election to say the least and it ended in a result that surprised many. While the world uses the next 53 days to unpack what the future looks like under a Trump administration, we’re using this time to reflect on the campaign that was and what we’ve learned as communicators.
The Trump digital campaign was driven by a belief that traditional media outlets were out to manipulate and derail his campaign. As a result, Trump’s online channels — including his own ‘Live from Trump Tower’ Facebook Live channel — were deemed necessary by his campaign team to balance debate.
As the voting public migrated away from traditional media for their election news commentary, scrutiny on digital channels — like Facebook and Google — increased, forcing them into taking reactive measures of their own.
What we saw with the election is that America is divided among partisan, tribal, economic, geographic and (now) factual lines, forming groups with their own beliefs and facts. The outcome? Americans can no longer agree on the basic facts, meaning mass persuasion as an election tactic is having less and less impact.
I think the words of our Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party Barnaby Joyce, sum it up, “Donald Trump was voted into power by a vast group of people who aren’t affected by traditional media reporting because they don’t watch political programs or read newspapers.”
Trump had a simple message that won the hearts and minds of those Americans who were disillusioned by and disenfranchised with the status quo. He spoke straight to the emotional needs of many Americans and tapped into their fear and anxiety the way any good marketer makes the most of consumer insights and perceptions.
As a business person, he demonstrated that brand is about understanding your market’s perception. Trump really upped the stakes when it came to amplifying the emotional part of his campaign.
Ultimately, the Trump campaign awoke the fabled ‘silent majority’. On polling day, these people proved they could be won over by strong messages of change. They were ready to take a gamble and they let their gut decide, which will always win out over any fact-based messaging as there is no need to explain the “why” when you’re voting based on feeling.
Where Trump excelled, Hillary failed, unable to win over the hearts and minds of Americans with rational arguments and resorting to negative messages about Trump supporters — e.g. sexists, bigots and xenophobes — something that insulted their intelligence.
Now that the dust has settled, the main communication take-away was always going to be Trump’s slogan “Make America Great again” — with its trademark conservative yearning for days of past glories (notwithstanding the fact that globally, America is still ‘great’ — its ranking amongst the top 3 nations remains, as yet, undiminished).
From a visual communication standpoint, Hillary’s campaign logo was memorable, incorporating a modern, progressive arrow element into the initial ‘H’. Much of the corporate and personal branding of Trump’s campaign was striking in that it brought crashing into the US political mainstream all of the hallmark tropes and excesses of Trump’s 80s and 90s corporate America. Who could forget the architectural constructivist Trump/Pence logo, with its penetrated ‘P’, which went on to be widely lampooned on the internet? It spoke volumes about Trump’s background — and political platform — evoking a brutalist visual approach that is classically emblematic of a can-do property magnate.