Trump and the power of emotion-fuelled marketing

Emotive is a word easily associated with Donald Trump. From the excessive hand waving and manic face pulling to the fiery speeches, everything about the man exudes raucous emotion, infectious to those who, too, just want to shout out at something – at anything. As a revolutionary politician, his speeches and tactics aren’t unlike many adopted throughout history. He’s not asking for an intellectual response – and indeed he’s not relying on a wholly intellectual argument – but one which pulls on a romantic nation’s heartstrings, invoking the voices of those longing for some indiscernible moment of their nation’s past to be rekindled (sound familiar?).

His visceral, pithy speeches, wordplay, catchphrases and general lexicon are engineered not to manoeuvre himself around a political contest, but to pitch his own brand of politics. Anybody watching his first presidential debate will have seen two contenders each playing their own game; the two halves of the stage are divided by more than political party allegiances. It is the division between new and old politics. We’ve seen something similar in Britain, and it’s no surprise that the bad-boys of Western politics – Firage and Trump – have struck a media allegiance.

But even as we understand the trend in politics and the support for Trump, presidential campaigns remain curious spectacles for us British. The theatrics and pantomime hysterics are in strong contrast to our own. The cheers and jeers of Whitehall are comparatively civilised, becoming more a battle of wit and rhetoric than an on-stage talent contest. But that’s largely because our political leaders represent a party; we, the people, don’t necessarily vote for the figurehead. In contrast, American politics are all about the man (or woman) leading the world’s most powerful country. The individual must become a brand, possessing a strong and powerful voice in their own right, even independent from the party which is responsible for nominating them. Trump is a Republican, but he’s also much more – a tumorous growth of misbegotten beliefs that has rapidly detached from its host organism.

But damnation of his particular brand of politics aside, there’s something subtly admiral in the way he navigates the business of politics. If there’s something entirely new about what he does, it’s that he plays the game without pretence; he’s fully aware of the power of marketing, of extolling his business brand, and that words such as ‘integrity’ don’t have as much consumer appeal as vague abstractions that promise a great and wonderful future. Make America Great Again is a to-the-point advertisement; it tantalises and allures, touching upon a resilient point of nostalgia that prevails at the heart of each of his supporters.

Because of this, it’s hard for us to take the higher ground. We did the same thing; we blamed a host of external influences for robbing us of our once-glorious past, and were swept up in a wave of national nostalgia. But Trump just does it better. His unassailable, unrelenting self-belief is the crux of his campaign’s marketing success. When he has wavered, for example, on a recent awkward trip to Mexico, he’s been quick to reaffirm his brand and position (i.e. making Mexico pay for their own seclusion).

Even a terrible product will do better for consistency. Whatever the man’s true intent, believing his own words has been vital to his success – remaining unapologetic, unsympathetic and uncontained by the lassoing attempts of his party. The more shocking the content, the more traction, and any marketer knows there’s value in all forms of publicity – even the negative sort. Proliferation of a brand can be more valuable than brand appeal, but only time will tell if the go-for-broke approach will pay off.