What we can learn from Donald Trump

votingAlong with most of the country, ad agencies have been watching the ascent of Donald Trump with a mixture of shock and awe.  To help make sense of something unlike anything we have ever experienced we have concluded that his strategy is all about the brand and keeping his brand in the public eye. The adage, “there is no such thing as bad publicity” has never been so fully vetted.

Believing that this is all driven by keeping his brand in the spotlight, however, turns everything we ever learned about brand marketing on its side. A solid, consumer-tested positioning has been replaced by a revolving door of changing platforms depending on his audience and news of the day. A respectful claim of superiority versus the competition has been replaced by staggering, off-color jokes about his opponents. Careful, thoughtful, and always politically correct statements to the media have given way to unfiltered shout outs that make even late night comics’ monologues seem tame. If any self-respecting agency handled a brand the way Trump has run his campaign, we would have committed brand suicide.

There is something, however, that Donald Trump has managed to channel in a yuuge way, and that’s passion. He has managed to connect his brand with a large enough base of people to become a serious contender for his party’s nomination.  More and more people are turning out for his speeches and have become quite energized in their support.   How has he managed that? It is doubtful he or his team analyzes every poll or focus group result before making his next appearance. In fact, not only would data crimp his style, but if he let that dictate his strategy he probably would not have gotten as far as he has. Instead he has allowed his personality to emerge and set him apart from any other candidate.

As all things digital took over the world and radically changed every ad agency’s paradigm for strategic planning, data took a front seat to each planning decision and every post analysis. Clients, with more limited budgets, fueled by an economy that still hasn’t instilled complete consumer confidence, has led to conservative decisions and often lackluster approaches in creative development. If Big Data can’t prove that a campaign will generate maximum results or if a new commercial or execution can’t translate into immediate sales, advertisers are more reluctant to take a chance. To be dictated by data muffles any team whether it is the media planner wanting to try a new publication or medium or a creative director writing a new commercial. The result is a stifled, flat effort that makes it harder to inspire and motivate the consumer. This year’s dismal Super Bowl commercials certainly illustrated that.

Do we need to resort to Trump’s tactics to energize a brand? Certainly not.  But we must go back to what we first learned in marketing and that’s to channel a passion that every brand has in its own way and to translate that passion into something meaningful. We can be guided by intelligent data but shouldn’t let it dictate every decision we make. Trump has not yet made that mistake, and neither should we.