Jonathan Gabay | Smart Insights | Thu, 10 Nov 2016 19:00:00 +0000

Trump defied every expert and still won. The implications for brands are huge.

Yesterday, I prepared a piece about the anticipated Clinton win as President of America.

What a difference nine hours makes…

Despite all the sophisticated big data … the huge political advertising budgets from the Clinton camp… the faceless pollsters who number-crunched rather than listened to the unspoken authentic voice of the people… in the end Trump won.

…So why, from a branding perspective did a reported sexist, racist and narcissistic defy all predictions?

Perhaps the regular American saw what a mess the world has become – despite all the propaganda suggesting the contrary. Looking for example to the UK, they got the impression that its identity had been decimated by an open-door policy leading to the country’s spiritual, commercial, social and political foundations becoming at best ‘in transition’ and at worst, tatters.

They saw Europe down, despondent and divided.

They looked at how former hard-working middle-classes around the world are now penniless. They saw Millennials with university educations receive little if any security in terms of jobs, homes of their own and more. They felt pity for youth’s naivety and wanted to give them a chance to look forward before it was too late.

They saw ‘the made-in-America’ brand erode. They could no longer settle for globalisation making America increasingly a service – rather than production nation.

They recognised that this was the ‘last-chance saloon’ for baby-boomers with experience and hindsight to be heard.

They saw welfare systems abused, stretched and failing.

They saw Obamacare make big insurance brands richer, at the expense of the people.

They saw a President who promised hope, end up helpless against Congress.

They witnessed how radicalism had used political correctness as a human shield to slowly defeat former notions of compassion and good will and resolve.

They saw veterans get cast aside.

They saw the ‘one per cent’ build a wall of conceit against the ‘ninety-nine per cent’.

They watched heads bowed down at smart phone screens whilst churches remained empty.

They saw (rightly or wrongly) a threat to their rights to protect families against increasing violence. They watched news about terrorists in the hallways of Europe and worried about the bogeyman reaching their doorsteps.

They felt – like so many on the planet– a forgotten, cuckolded generation.

Clinton ran a campaign. Trump led a movement

One of the biggest mistakes Clinton made was to jeer at Trump supporters – as opposed listen to them. You don’t have to be a social psychologist to understand that the more you marginalise a group – the stronger and more defiant that group becomes. Whilst Clinton was running a campaign – Trump was leading a movement.

But what kind of leader was this guy? No experience. Failed businesses…

Possibly Americans were willing to forgive all of it simply because beneath the rhetoric they recognised a fresh figure untainted by politics. Trump appeared willing to fight their cause to earn respect once more by the world as contenders. Sure, in terms of politics, he was rookie.  Sure he landed questionable upper-cuts in business. Sure he spoke his mind. For certain he was brash – even crude. But those precise qualities made Trump the forgotten people’s heavyweight champion. For them, he was a real Cagney, Brando, Wayne, Stallone all- American tough guy with a heart, rather than apprentice without a clue.

Great branding is much deeper than superficial advertising, frivolous social media pages, or a twee ‘gal-power’ tune crooned by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga or Madonna. It understands and reaches the hearts of the people. As proven by this result, people’s human feelings, fears, loves, ambitions, self-esteem and so on, are far more complex than trendy algorithms – irrespective of however many ‘WOWs’, ‘LOLs’ and ‘Amazings’ are used to present such algorithms in a populist light on social media or other attention-bleeding channels.

In short – what people think – is always very different from what they say. (Consider your own thoughts at work as your boss ignores you – yet again).

We are a cynical species. We believe that like big businesses, most politicians are corrupt – it’s the way it is. Clinton was potentially heading into the White House with a mile-high stack of alleged misdemeanours hanging over her head. Even the Clinton Foundation was not fully transparent.  At least Trump was a new kid in town – somehow for the American voter, his misdemeanours felt slightly cleaner. He was after all a businessperson – you don’t get far in business by being ‘nice’. Maybe the American people felt Trump was exactly what was needed for today– someone who could offer a hand of friendship, with the threat of repercussions if that treaty was abused. Trump was the better of two evils.

So now America will celebrate the promise to be great again. Like them, we all wait to see whether the hangover following those celebrations will last a month or drag on for four years.

Either way, we enter interesting times not just in terms of the divide between Western civilisation and the East, but the inner-conflict of who we are and what we can become.