How Marketing Changed Our Country's Wildest Election

This election has been steeped in controversy, scandals, and an endless supply of infuriating news via social media concerning our electoral process. The candidates have often been described as the “lesser of two evils” depending on one’s political perspective, and have engaged in disputes across every form of media and often leaving political discourse to be an afterthought in the public’s perception of them.


In the middle of the contention (though certainly not the only force behind it) is Donald Trump. Well known for his real estate mogul image and starring role in “The Apprentice,” Mr. Trump’s name has gained the connotation of luxury and high achievement. Indeed, marketing of the Trump brand over the years has created an image that most Americans know and subtly trust.  How can we use the lens of marketing to examine what went awry in this election, and how we can use this as a lesson for both the media’s role in brand image and elections moving forward?


Politics is a microcosm for marketing techniques and principles to flourish in. Instead of products finding their way into various forms of media and campaigns centered on a brand, we get rhetoric agreeing with our hopes on a very personal level. This process naturally creates a divide between the electorate, or “market” for votes in our terms. So an ideal campaign must have the tendencies and fervor equal to that of today’s biggest companies. Examining each of the two major candidates logos will give us a small portrait of their marketing strategy.


For Hilary Clinton’s image, she has largely assumed the mantle of progress that the Democrats have come to represent. Her logo has skewed from the traditional patriotic color field with a name in it that populates many lawns altogether. Instead, her campaign enlisted Michael Bierut’s graphic design firm Pentagram to create a complete logo system, consisting of a capital ‘H’ with an arrow pointed forward. This allows for Hilary’s brand image to morph towards the demographic and/or event they are trying to reach in a subtle but unmistakable way.


Trump’s branding reflects the connection he wants to establish with the traditional American workers and values that the left is, supposedly, attempting to leave behind. We get no symbols, nor clever color configurations. Instead, in a very trump-esque manner, we see T-R-U-M-P in bold white letters above his campaign’s redemptionist slogan: Make America Great Again!


So how exactly did a man whose brand openly facilitates xenophobic ideology and prejudice, ascend the Republican party and become a candidate for leader of the world’s most powerful nation? If you cannot possibly find an answer for this, then you’re probably not in the demographic Trump is interested in.


The beginning of this election was marked by a crammed field of 17 political candidates vying for the Republican candidacy. This situation seemingly mirrored the endless gridlock in Washington and the discontent in our country’s political system.


In Regis McKenna’s landmark article “Marketing Is Everything,” he described a situation that is relevant for both businesses and political candidates: “A greater number of voices translates into a smaller impact. Customers simply are unable to remember which advertisement pitches which product, much less what qualities or attributes might differentiate one product from another. Very simply, it’s a jumble out there.”


This is where excellent marketing of the Trump campaign forced the political field to capitulate to his strategy. Rather than tone down his rhetoric to fit the mold of traditional candidates, Trump’s campaign chose to amplify his controversy, turning the media’s conversation in his direction. The more inflammatory his remarks, the more coverage he gained in the news circuit and on social media. The more coverage he received, the more presence he commanded over the rest of the candidates. In a self-perpetuating cycle, Trump took advantage of a media system that antagonized him in order to market himself over his competitors, allowing him to absorb the conservative-leaning votes in the process.

    So what does this mean for future elections? How can brand image in politics prevent itself from being overran by sheer ratings and empty rhetoric? The answer may lie within the political party’s themselves, and the way they perpetuate themselves in the media. Perhaps they can learn something from Trump’s use of the media to more strongly communicate a central message to voters. Only time will tell whether or not political discourse and electioneering will evolve to keep pace with today’s media. Until then, it is the responsibility of us marketing savvy people to use our talents for a good purpose. Especially not to ruin elections.
-Daniel Way
Stanford Marketing Group