A few days ago a colleague challenged me on whether it was possible to build a brand without creative. Instinctively, I said “No!” and promptly returned to the latest episode unfolding in the US elections.
But as the world’s largest brand campaign began to play out, and Trump’s crusade evolved into a fully fledged movement, I was reminded that as crucial as creative is to brands, there are other things that can trump it.
A fair bit has been written about Donald Trump’s motivations around entering the presidential race being a strategic play designed to take his personal brand to new heights, rather than a concerted grab at power. You’ve got to hand it to the guy – in an age where the popularity of Game of Thrones has highlighted our innate interest in watching kings rise and fall, Trump has literally captured the iron throne and done so with a frighteningly simple formula.
To understand his ascension to power and the lessons for brand, I think there are three fundamental things that The Donald’s campaign nailed.
With any brand – be it commercial, political or social – the best place to start is to understand who your audience is and what motivates them. As much as Trump is a walking contradiction, he enjoyed (and celebrated) his connection to blue collar America. Regardless of how superficial and self-interested it may seem, his fingers were literally and metaphorically much closer to America’s pulse than Hillary’s could ever be.
Now for part two; the message. Through ‘Make America Great Again’, Trump simply and succinctly cracked a piece of comms which struck a chord with ‘his people’, and painted a clear picture of for what he stood for – i.e. ‘The American Dream’.
And to really hammer the point home, this emotional hook was supported with clear reasons to believe: Delivering Justice – holding Clinton to account; Clamping down on immigration – the wall; Fiscal Reform – glorifying tax evasion and reminding the world of his business savvy at every opportunity.
Love them or hate them, they’re distinctive messages which cut through the noise, struck a chord and proved to be ruthlessly effective in convincing the masses that Trump is the maverick ‘capable’ of shaking up Washington. Here’s the weird thing though, it’s hardly a unique formula. In fact, it shared many of the hallmarks of Obama’s ’08 Hope campaign!
Last but by no means least, those in the world of branding have to applaud Trump’s relentless ability to stick to his guns. Coming from a creative industry, our currency comes in the form of new ideas, and we, more than most, can become guilty of creating new content in the interests of ‘staying relevant’. In many ways Trump was the opposite to this. He stuck to his guns (pun intended) and kept reminding Americans of his ambition. This stubborn single-mindedness was also a stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who in the clarity of hindsight, will have to accept that while she stood for everything, she therefore said nothing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Does all this mean I’ve changed my mind on whether brands can thrive in a creative vacuum?! There are certainly things that brands can do to lay the foundations for their brands to thrive. But ultimately, the literal caricature that is Donald Trump is a piece of creative work that even the world’s most creative minds couldn’t have dreamed up.
Oh, and one more thing. Wally Ollins summed brands up nicely when he said brands are about two things. Firstly, make a promise. Second. Keep it.
I guess we’re about to find out what a great America looks like.
– From the brand guy