Trump: Marketing Genius or Hot Mess?

3 Keys to the President-Elect’s Winning Campaign

I think it’s safe to say that most of our nation is still in shock from last month’s election. Honestly, I can’t even believe you’re reading another Trump article, but thank you. Even those who voted for Trump didn’t really expect him to win. I mean… come on. Really?

So what exactly happened on Tuesday, November 8? Because you clearly don’t win a Presidential Election by being lucky. It turns out Trump had a very calculated game plan on his way to the highest office in our country.

Just to be clear: this is not an article about politics. This is not an article about who I voted for or who you voted for or why we made that decision.

This is an article about marketing. This is an article analyzing a winning campaign and asking the question, “is Donald Trump a marketing genius? Or is he really just a hot mess that the country couldn’t stop watching?”

Here are 3 keys to the Trump campaign:


Donald Trump is a master at attention. From his outrageous policies, to his twitter rants to his five-speeches-a-day schedule, the man knows how to attract attention.

The New York Times estimated that the media gave Trump over $2 billion dollars in free advertising through this campaign. That’s a huge number considering his campaign raised only $512 million — less than half of Clinton’s $1.068 billion.

Clinton came out of the gate focused on detailed policy and making sure American’s knew how experienced she was. It’s the traditional, 1990’s political strategy. Trump, however, wasn’t a political insider. He knew he couldn’t compete on policy or experience, so he leveraged emotion.

What’s the best way to shake up a staunchy, conservative industry? Shock. Edginess. Attention. Trump doesn’t care if you love him or hate him, his number one goal was to disrupt the political system and challenge the status quo. He knew he had to build his “political brand” quick. In order to do that, he needed lots of attention… and fast.

Brad Davis, associate professor of marketing at Lazaridis School of Business says,

“Trump is a disruptive brand. He is brash, opinionated, transparent and unapologetic, the polar opposite of what we expect of politicians.”

While these types of strategies would almost certainly be suicide for most businesses and brands, Trump sincerely believes he has solutions for our country. He knew he would never have the opportunity to win unless he could get attention. So he said lots of things and did lots of things that made lots of people not like him. In his mind, the end justified the means.


One of the most compelling cases for Trump’s win was his use of digital media. We could confidently argue that this was the first Presidential race won by digital marketing.

Secretary Clinton leveraged traditional advertising mediums like television and radio. Up until September, 2106, Clinton had spent $52 million on traditional advertising. Trump spent $0 (zero, nada, nothing). Two months later at the end of October, Clinton’s totals reached almost $142 million while Trump spent less than half at $59 million.

Just for comparison… and kicks, Jeb Bush spent $84 million in traditional advertising before conceding to Trump.

Also for comparison, in the month of October, Clinton spent $3.1 million on digital marketing, while Trump spent $14.2 million. Almost five times as much as he blasted emails and placed ads all across social media. In the end, it’s estimated that his campaign spent $90 million in digital marketing.

“I think that social media has more power than the money they spent, and I think maybe to a certain extent I proved that,”

Trump said in a 60 Minutes interview.

While Clinton ran a traditional, 1990’s political campaign focused on big media, Trump leveraged social and earned media to connect with American’s across the country. In the end, digital won.

Side Note: The morning after the election, I walked into my neighborhood Starbucks to discover that our local paper printed this:

They printed this at 2:30 a.m. that morning. The media called the race for Trump a little after 4:00 a.m. The traditional, printed newspaper was irrelevant in a 90 minute time span.


Whether or not you agree with Trump’s tagline, “Make America Great Again,”it’s a strong, optimistic mandate. It implied action and gave supporters a job —“let us make America great again.” It was a slogan that worked its way into the conversational fabric of the country. While Clinton’s “Stronger Together” was certainly optimistic, it didn’t provide a mandate. It didn’t require action.

If we pass over this too quickly, we may miss the most important word in the campaign’s slogan, “Make America Great AGAIN.” Trump strategically added the word “AGAIN” to appeal to the working class’ sense of nostalgia. Remind people of the “good ole days” when life was seemingly less complicated and easier.

Stephen Greyser, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, says,

“Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ was designed to make white working-class men remember when things were better for them or, at least, they thought they could remember.”

I think nostalgia is highly under estimated and under valued in our country. How many 90’s bands were on tour this summer playing to sold out festivals and arenas. It’s human nature to reminisce. Things always seem more happy and simple when we look back. That’s why we’ll spend money on nostalgia.

Subconsciously, in our country right now, I believe people are nervous about how fast things are beginning to change. From social media, to electric cars, to the growth of China, to the instability of Islamic extremists to talks of colonizing Mars; change is only coming faster and faster. Most find that uncomfortable and wish it would slow down.

Trump’s message nailed it. “Make America Great Again,” encourages us to imagine the future. A future viewed through the lens of yesterday. It gave Americans a sense of control, a sense of comfort and a sense of slowing down. That’s what they voted for.

So what do you think? Is Trump a marketing genius? Or is he just a hot mess that entertained the country all the way to the white house?

Regardless of which you believe, it’s clear that:

Donald Trump is everything we love and hate about marketing wrapped up in a 70 year old reality tv star.

He leveraged short-term, gimmicky tactics to get lots of attention fast. He won the Presidential election by leveraging digital platforms to spread his message to the masses. He captivated the public with a compelling story of returning to the greatness of our country.

Only one question remains: just because Donald Trump knows how to market, does he know how to be President? It seems most Americans think so.

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