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A Marketing Lesson from Donald, Hillary, David, Samuel and Ricky



Thought Leadership

The Trump win against Clinton will be analyzed for decades. It is, to understate the very obvious, a pivotal moment that will have mammoth consequences for the future of the USA and the world. The aftershocks are still arriving by the hour and may deliver more surprises before they subside.

But as a shallow advertising guy, I can’t help but look at this historic turn of events for my own mercenary purposes. What insights can I glean about marketing from this major world event? There are all kinds of lessons to learn; lots of tactical details and strategic maneuvers—both brilliant and failed—to study. But the one big thing that screams for immediate attention is the one big thing that the Clinton campaign totally failed to employ. Where was The Promise?

David Ogilvy often said, “You can’t bore your customer into buying your product.” To me, that is perhaps the greatest single sentence of marketing advice anyone has ever published. Donald Trump lives and breathes that truth. Everything he does, in his words, is “Amazing,” “Beautiful,” “Fantastic,” “HUGE.” In 1759, before a certain country even existed, Samuel Johnson wrote, “Promise, large Promise, is the soul of an Advertisement.” How did that basic marketing principle escape the Democrats? Trump’s brand promised to “Make America Great Again.” What was Hillary’s promise? “Stronger Together”? I’m sorry, but “Stronger Together” is an observation, not a promise. Is our goal simply to be “strong”? What does that get us? Safety? Security? Wealth? Happiness? The Hillary brand never defined, in a singular, simple message, what you would get if you elected her as President.

Her campaign brought to mind one of the brilliant ads in the movie “The Invention of Lying.” As Ricky Gervais waits to cross the street, a bus passes by displaying a poster that reads, “Pepsi. When they don’t have Coke.” That underwhelming pitch was pretty much the way Clinton was positioned against Trump.

The lesson: Always make a big promise. Be the real thing. Be the ultimate driving machine. Promise me magic (Disney), that I can be a real athlete (Nike), that I can be creative and cool (Apple), that I can keep my family safe (Volvo), that it will be delivered tomorrow (FedEx), that I’ll have outrageous fun (Las Vegas).

Now, here is the rub. You must also fulfill your promise. Bill Bernbach famously wrote: “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster.” So, with apologies to Mr. Gervais, you can’t just lie. To create a successful brand, your promise must be both BIG and TRUE.

At the end of the 1972 movie, “The Candidate,” after having unexpectedly won a senate race, Robert Redford’s character turns to his advisors and asks: “What do we do now?” As the mob of reporters and supporters pushes into the room, he looks a bit haunted and lost.

If your goal is simply to be a good advertiser, you only need a big promise. But to be a good brand, you need a good promise and a good product. We know the campaign was successful. Let’s hope the brand can follow through.

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