Full disclosure: the man was not my candidate. And frankly, the tenor and tone of his communication troubled me—almost daily. While it gave me pause, I had to admit it was damn effective. I forced myself to see what could be learned from his tactics.
Donald Trump had a message that was clear, concise and so simple a three year old could understand it. It was a rallying cry. It was emotional. It touched the fury and frustration with a system that serves too few and has left too many behind.
Hillary Clinton had a beautifully designed visual language, one that was managed carefully and consistently. But it never resonated because the message behind it was nonexistent. No amount of design savvy or digital expertise will connect with an audience if you aren’t saying anything.
Brand consultant to the Clinton campaign, Wendy Clark, quoted from one of the Wiki-leaks emails, “To be clear, a logo can communicate and aid attribution of qualities, but it is not a proxy for the messaging of the campaign until they are relentlessly connected and delivered, repeatedly and consistently. That’s when brands take on meaning.”
And there in lies the problem. The Clinton campaign leaned on a beautiful kit of parts instead of a clear, concise resonate message. As we’ve heard by postulating pundits, the lack of a theme led voters to write their own. The Wednesday morning quarterbacking included, “It’s my time.” or “Vote for me because he’s crazy.” The reality is, #I’mWithHer completely failed to address the economic pain and suffering felt by many voters in the industrial Midwest. Make no mistake, I am not saying that design and content are mutually exclusive; think how a strong message would have been amplified through a great design program.
Trump in contrast, had no visual graphic system beyond the red hat. If we think of a brand as the ultimate shorthand, something that is completely reductive and connects with feeling and loyalty—you’ve got to hand it to Trump. Trump’s greatest accomplishments have been the ability to create a meaning associated with his name, and a fortune by licensing that name to hotels, casinos, steaks, etc. Then in a historically unprecedented move, he took that commercial brand and transferred it into the political realm.
How many times do we, as corporate communications specialists see brands go to market without a strong differentiating positioning? How often do we observe advertising with gorgeous visual tricks intended to substitute for substance? How many times do we roll our eyes because no one will take a definitive stand on an issue? How often are we subjected to slick marketing speak when a simple statement will do?
And just when are we going to do something about it?