Understanding The Trump Brand

Hey folks, is there still time to talk about Trump? Do we all think that because the election is now over, we’re never going to hear about the Trump brand anymore? Well, we all know if we’re paying attention, that’s simply not true. We’re going to hear about the Trump brand for a long time, mostly because of the brand community Donald Trump and his organization have built around the core values that motivate and bind that group.

When you think about Donald Trump as a brand and as a master of brand manipulation and media manipulation, he followed a standard playbook. One of the key things he did was he started right off with victimization. He identified an enemy. First it was Barack Obama, this new black president, bringer of hope and joy. So that went on for a while, and of course, that was dispelled. But it didn’t matter, because it touched a little core in the group of people that started to find themselves attracted to this icon of this new brand called Trump. As soon as he got some traction on that, it was like, let’s start looking at another villain. Let’s see if we can find another object to actually keep people focused on. I’m your hero, and I’m going to get it fixed. So it was immigration. It was Hispanic people coming up. They’re drug dealers, they’re rapists. They’re going to destroy our country, yada, yada, yada.


Even if they throw the guy in jail, he’s going to be around for a while because his message, his imagery, his focus on these values resonates with a huge part of the population that sees this polarization as a function of identity. They identify with the sense of them being included, being validated by him winning so many states. In other words, they  make excuses for some of his abhorrent behaviour and The Muppets that he’s gathered around him. What’s important to keep in mind is that there’s a huge brand community around that guy. They’re not just consumers. They’re advocates to movement. And it’s not going to die down any time soon. If you’re looking around to blame, right wing bias, nut job media, you really have to shake your head and wait for a couple of those loose parts in your head to loosen up so that you remember that Trump was enabled and empowered not just by Fox News and Breitbart. Trump was emboldened, he was empowered, and he was given a platform by venerated, highly respected, mainstream centre or centre left media platforms.

One in particular, CBS, the home of Walter fucking Cronkite and Dan Rather, JD Roberts, who was a Citytv much music DJ, worked at CBS. I think he’s at Fox now. But Les Moonves, who was the CEO of CBS during the 2016 presidential run where Trump apparently came out of nowhere, had the following to say. This is directly from a talk he did with a bunch of CBS affiliates in 2016 as the campaign was really ramping up, he said of the tone of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign and the advertising dollars that delivered. Moonves says, and I quote, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” And then he added, “Donald’s place in this election is a good thing.” Now, Les Moonves, for those of you who may not be aware, like Roger Ailes at Fox, got the punt as a result of allegations of sexual harassment, even sexual assault. And his case and his situation is working through the legal pipeline.


It would be better if we had messages that were from better brands that had better promises. But Donald Trump is a textbook example of how to use the simplest form of brand strategy to identify the villain. In other words, identify the thing you’re trying to overcome.  So he had a serious opportunity and a fantastic opportunity in the worst way to create a villain, identify it, villainize it, criminalize it, and then offer a really simple solution. Because it caught on, everything else he did after that had the same meter and had the same rhythm. It’s something to take away from any business that’s trying to build their brand community.

Hopefully you’re not going to try to do something as evil as and rotten as Donald Trump, or at least as unbalanced as Donald Trump, if you want to be a little fair about it. But take a look at the nature of what is going to be the objective that you’re trying to accomplish, how can you simply identify what your solution is going to be, and how are you going to manage and motivate media and influencers to actually share that message in a way that keeps it simple and easy to repeat? It may sound a little cynical, and it may seem that we’re here taking advantage of Donald Trump. And I’m not saying he’s a genius, but let’s face it, he wasn’t dealing with a lot of geniuses. A lot of Americans don’t give a damn about getting informed about stuff. They don’t look at other media platforms. Canadians aren’t so much different. And Donald Trump’s approach and Donald Trump’s message has resonated here in Canada as well. And that’s not necessarily good news. But you see it in politics here in Canada as well. So be aware of that! Be aware of the simplification. Be aware of the villainization.

My advice is come up with a better promise, come up with a better brand opportunity, and let’s do something to actually make the world a better place and not just a better place for people like Donald Trump.


Wayne S. Roberts

The Globe and Mail calls Wayne S. Roberts "an ad industry provocateur." Maybe its because he's never seen the point of playing by the ad game rules that place awards above results, while offering spec work instead of real value to win accounts. Throughout his career, Wayne has maintained a defiantly independent streak characterized by his insistence that agencies must be honest, direct and passionately invested in their clients' success. His pioneering work in espousing the brand community perspective has been a touchstone of his belief that branding is more than just logos, websites and ad campaigns; it is the fundamental way human beings connect with each other to create communities and launch movements that have changed our world.

Wayne S. Roberts has 66 posts and counting.See all posts by Wayne S. Roberts