How Trump Changed All The Rules
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President-Elect, Donald Trump, communications, political

How Trump Changed All The Rules

The journey of a man best known to most Americans as the star of a reality TV show to becoming President-Elect of the United States is arguably the most incredible political story in history. It will be studied, analyzed and written about for many years to come. For those of us in the communications world, it reveals a slew of new realities – from the fascinating to the frightening.

MESSAGE: Donald Trump won the presidency for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest was riding a clear and consistent message all the way to victory: he was going to “Make America Great Again.” It didn’t matter that could mean just about anything. In fact, part of the effectiveness of that bumper sticker message lay in its ability to mean many different things to many very different people, while taking them all to the same place: a feeling that Trump not only understood what they were yearning for, but that he was bound and determined to deliver it. Like former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s winning vow to “stop the gravy train at city hall,” Trump broke through by telling people what they were dying to hear, and convincing them he was the only one who could make good on it.

RESONANCE: Trump’s message resonated deeply and emotionally with his target audience – American voters who felt disenfranchised, frustrated by systems that didn’t seem to work for them anymore and are dominated by political elites and Washington lifers, who seemed incapable of fixing what the voters saw as broken. He offered precious few specifics as to how he would fix things, yet Trump still managed to convince enough Americans that he had simple answers to all of the big problems that every other politician said were far too complex to remedy with the snap of a finger. His blatant exaggerations and outright lies were numerous and well documented – but none of that mattered.

AUTHENTICITY: Trump shocked us repeatedly with the things he said – from talk of building walls to banning Muslims to boasting that he could shoot somebody in downtown Manhattan and still go up in the polls – but that reckless disregard for political correctness was received by his supporters as authenticity. He was the guy who was so unafraid to say what so many voters were feeling that it was not only interpreted by them as unvarnished honesty, but it reinforced his positioning as the Washington outsider who was gonna go in there and demolish the status quo. Barack Obama became president on a message of change wrapped up in positivity, hope and “Yes, we can.” Trump also won on a message of change, but his was the polar opposite approach – the wrecking ball who would “drain the swamp.”

TECHNOLOGY: Just as social media played a key role in electing Barack Obama, so too did it help his successor – but in markedly different ways. While Obama’s team harnessed social networks in a methodical, organized digital campaign, Trump was relentless in firing off often angry and untrue Tweets – which became irresistible re-Tweets for his growing army of followers. He kept dishing out stuff that social media supporters and mainstream media reporters simply could not leave alone.

Frankly, I take no joy in this analysis. As a former journalist with a degree in the profession, I am dismayed by the death of truth and the triumph of inaccuracy and exaggeration we have witnessed during this campaign. As a former senior level political advisor, I’m equally saddened by the lack of consequence for the disrespect, offensiveness and inability to demonstrate acumen or a clear, achievable plan. Many said this was the campaign that hit rock bottom in so many ways; I hope that proves true.


This article was written by the Director of Brand Reputation, Bob Reid. Fuel the conversation and keep up to date with us @VeritasComm.