Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Happened? My Take on the 2016 Election

One campaign gave us a political slogan. The other sold us a brand.

Pictue from Seattle Municipal Archives from Seattle, WA - Voting machine, 1971, CC BY 2.0,

My office companion is an old Panasonic Radio turned to our local public radio station. Over the last couple of months this companion has, for the most part, talked about the 2016 election. Each day the inner sanctum of my office was invaded by talking heads giving their analysis of the campaigns and predictions about the outcome. With each conversation came the results of one poll or another, each telling me about Clinton's lead. And then came the day after the election when my tabletop friend changed its tune. Instead of telling me that Clinton would win my daytime companion kept asking, "How did she lose?"

There are a number of explanations for the end result of the 2016 election. Most likely the real answer is a combination of factors, including the misreading of the electorate by both the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media. If I may add my two cents, I suspect one of the biggest reasons for the outcome is the fact that one campaign was just that, a campaign. The other was something very different, based on doing what the candidate does best: selling a brand.

"Make America Great Again"

The Trump campaign made a promise to the nation in the embodiment of their campaign slogan. "Make America Great Again," was a promise to do something positive, even though I doubt anyone can actually define what that promise really means. But with polls showing large numbers of voters expressing a feeling that the nation is on the wrong path, the promise to do something likely resonated with a large voting block. As it did so the Trump campaign turned that slogan into a national brand. They sold that brand, clobbering their opponents with it one insult at a time.

On the other side of the aisle we had "Together," and "I'm With Her!" One presented a positive message of inclusiveness. The other seemed to express a commitment to a candidate without a commitment to the country. Both were decent political slogans but neither matched the promise implied by #MAGA. The Clinton slogans did what they were designed to do but they never became a brand.

One campaign gave us a political slogan. The other sold us a brand. Implied in that brand was a promise but it’s the packaging that drew in the voters. Are you surprised? You should not be. After all Trump makes a good amount of money selling his brand. He ran his campaign his way, a master pitchman selling his services to America. And whereas a Trump Steak costs a good chunk of change, buying into the #MAGA brand costs only the time to go to the polls.

In the end the political machine was no match for the branding machine. As a result, come January Trump supporters (and detractors) get to take the packaging off of what we have just been sold. Trump pulled off a major upset. As he sits for the next four years as the most powerful man in the world, we will see if this steak is more than just sizzle.