If you have spent the last few months living on Mars, you probably will not be aware of today’s US Election (November 3).
For the rest of us, it has been in our faces for some time now; an ever-present feature of the news cycle, peppered across our social media feeds and a topic of (socially-distanced) and sometimes fraught conversations with friends, family and colleagues. Donald Trump has been a virtually unavoidable presence in the lives of us all these last four years. Bigly.
The American election tells us so much about marketing. And not all of it is pretty.
Firstly, it dominates political strategy and spending. An eye-watering $14 billion is set to be spent on the Trump and Biden campaigns combined, a record that will more than double the spending on the 2016 election. Much of the spending is on social media. You may have joined Facebook not long after it launched in 2004. Perhaps you even “threw a sheep” or “poked” an old school friend?
Back then, it was unthinkable that Facebook and other social platforms, especially Twitter, would become such major players on the political landscape. But social media’s incredible breadth of reach, its ability to target demographics with specific messaging and – most worryingly – its relative lack of regulation over content have made it THE critical battleground.
It has made the environment more challenging for the more tightly regulated traditional media, who have had to adapt their own tactics with a multi-platform approach.
It is hard to imagine that someone like Donald Trump, with no political experience, could be elected the leader of the free world in a time before social media. It gave him a platform to build an audience, that he would have been unable to do otherwise.
It is also a reflection of the celebrity-obsessed cultures we inhabit. Trump’s celebrity from shows like “The Apprentice” gave him a currency of credibility that an equally – or even more – successful businessman with no public profile would not have. It is by no means a new phenomenon. But it is still a strange feature of human psychology that we will listen to and be led by people who have achieved fame and notoriety, even when they communicate on a subject they have little or no expertise on.
Another huge lesson from Trump is the power of simple, effective messaging. Like it or not, “Make American Great Again” is one of the most successful slogans in political history. It’s a simple four-word phrase that is both provocative and memorable. It cuts through to the audience and speaks over the constant noise of messaging we all navigate online and offline. There is undoubtedly a real ugliness to US Elections, more so in recent years.
But if you can bear to watch, there are marketing lessons to be drawn for businesses of all sizes.