The 4 Words That Won Donald Trump The Presidency, And The 2 Words That Lost It For Hillary
It’s Sunday, November 13th, 4 days after the election results came in and America let out a collective ‘What-the-fuck-just-happened?’. Personally, I wish we could all go back to one week prior when the Cubs won the World Series and America let out a collective ‘What-the-fuck-just-happened?’ but in a much more joyful manner.
But here’s the reality for the next 4 years: Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. Still weird to say, I know.
How did this happen? Well, looking at this purely from a branding lens, here’s my rationale. But before all that, I have to give you a few disclaimers:
Disclaimer 1: I did NOT vote for Donald Trump. I voted for Hillary. The closest I have come to endorsing Donald Trump was watching a few seasons of The Apprentice in the early-mid 2000’s and still thinking he was a jackass then, dressing in a suit and wearing a Trump mask for some costume day during my high school’s Homecoming Week in 2005, and rooting against him at Wrestlemania 23 in 2007 in his ‘Battle of The Billionaires’ with Vince McMahon (where the loser had their head shaved, and hot damn did I want to see a bald Trump).
Disclaimer 2: This is my explanation from a branding perspective, and I realize is an oversimplification of some of the more nuanced issues when it comes to a political race. Understand it’s a macro take.
Disclaimer 3: I was mulling writing this MONTHS ago, but didn’t want it to come off as if I was a supporter of Trump, and didn’t want even one iota of my being to root for Trump just so I could say I was right.
Okay then, all that said, here’s...
THE 4 WORDS THAT WON DONALD TRUMP THE PRESIDENCY
I’ve studied marketing for almost a decade, and focused more on branding in its various forms for the last ~3ish years. Around April 2015 I made an interesting discovery about slogans/taglines which explained to me how some of the world’s largest and smallest (but overall successful in their own right) brands communicated themselves so effectively by communicating so simply. It turns out there is a formula for effective and successful slogan communication, and I discovered it by accidentally using it myself for over a year at that point.
This formula is why I was particularly interested when I saw Donald Trump announce his candidacy for President in July 2015 and proclaimed to “Make America Great Again”. (But even then I was like ‘naaaah’ he’s too much of a joke)
This formula is also why I was a little concerned when I saw Hillary Clinton formalize her campaign under the notion that America is “Stronger Together.” (But even then I was like ‘this should be a cakewalk for her’)
THE TAGLINE FORMULA I DISCOVERED
When I made the discovery in April 2015, I was in the midst of trying to build my own business, where the slogan my Cofounder and I used was “Discover Your Inner Awesome” (also what we eventually named our podcast). It’s a slogan that, when people heard it, they leaned in and said, “Oh that’s interesting — tell me more!”
So I studied why this resonated with people so well. I looked at all different types of brands, and I realized that we used the same formula that so many of them did. Whether they do it intentionally or not, I have no idea, but here’s the formula I discovered for a successful slogan. It’s incredibly simple, but massively effective:
BRAND = ACTION VERB + AUDIENCE ASPIRATION
Take a word that puts someone into action, and combine it with a word or phrase that your target audience aspires to.
Because mathematicians like to simplify expressions, let’s use B = AV + AA.
It works for the world’s beverage leader, Coca-Cola.
Coke = Open Happiness
Coke = Open (AV) + Happiness (AA)
It works for one of the world’s largest airlines, United Airlines.
United = Fly The Friendly Skies
United = Fly (AV) + The Friendly Skies (AA)
It works for the world’s most popular electronics provider, Apple.
Apple = Think Different
Apple = Think (AV) + Different (AA)
During the summer of 2015, it worked as the seasonal campaign of a large American outdoor lifestyle retailer, REI.
REI = Make Summer Epic
REI = Make (AV) + Summer Epic (AA)
It works for the online entrepreneur Marie Forleo.
Forleo = Create A Business & Life You Love
Forleo = Create (AV) + A Business & Life You Love (AA)
It works for the independent yoga studio I go to in Chicago, Bare Feet Power Yoga (BFPY for short).
BFPY = Follow The Happy People
BFPY = Follow (AV) + The Happy People (AA)
It was working for us with Discover Your Inner Awesome, and it just worked for the man now responsible for the Free World, Donald Trump.
Trump = Make America Great Again
Trump = Make (AV) + America Great Again (AA)
SO WHY DOES THIS WORK?
When I made this discovery, I noticed the formula popping up everywhere.
B = AV + AA
How can something so ridiculously simple be so effective though?
It piques the exact right amount of interest to want to know more. What inherently happens when you read or hear a tagline following that formula is you determine if you’re on board or not. The brand triggers an immediate call to action, and ties it to an ideal outcome — a dream scenario. The combination of Verb with Aspiration forces you to ask yourself, “Do I want this? Yes or no?”
Do I want to Open Happiness?
Do I want to Fly The Friendly Skies?
Do I want to Think Different?
Do I want to Make Summer Epic?
Do I want to Create A Business & Life I Love?
Do I want to Follow The Happy People?
Do I want to Discover My Inner Awesome?
Do I want to Make America Great Again?
And because it’s a clean yes or no answer, using this formula accomplishes 2 things:
- It creates raving fans who get behind the dream scenario you’ve painted for them, which
- draws an immediate line in the sand of who’s with you, and who’s against you. You spend very little time convincing people to just listen to you, which enables you to spend more time expanding upon your message.
B = AV + AA
When I tell people the title of my podcast is Discover Your Inner Awesome, very rarely do I get a “Hmm…” response. It’s either, “Whoa! I could use that! Where can I download?”, or “So like personal development stuff right? Yeah, I’m not into all that.” And that’s perfect because if someone already knows they aren’t into personal development, I don’t need to waste any time trying to convince them. They are not my audience, and that’s okay.
Trump created raving fans with Make America Great Again. Right off the bat, people were either with him or against him. And those against him, people like me, STILL end up talking about him, because we go and say, “Screw that! America is already great for reasons x, y, and z!” In so doing, we keep him relevant and inadvertently promote his message, while pushing his supporters even further into his corner, who can say, “No — it’s not great, for reasons a, b, and c! We’re right, and you’re wrong!”
B = AV + AA
Now compare that to Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, Stronger Together.
It’s a weak message. It’s an adjective with an adverb. At that, “Stronger” is a comparative adjective, and we don’t know what we’re supposed to compare it to. Rather than get people on board right away, and create the audience you want, you lose and waste time on a person having to assess what level of strength we currently have, and what level we’re trying to get to. There’s too much grey area.
“Together” could work in the slogan as a fine aspiration, if it were tied to something that called to action. Hillary’s campaign likely would have seen more success if they had gone with, “Stand Together”. You’re either sitting or standing, independently or with others. Clear yes or no. With that message she could have played to the birth of our nation taking a stand together against Great Britain, people standing together to see MLK speak, Rosa Parks taking a stand (even by sitting) to band together in the civil rights movement, and America standing together in the wake of 9/11.
Or they could have found a completely different way to say “Stronger Together” while still communicating the same message. Something like, “Unite As One”. All of those same images would still apply here.
B = AV + AA
You could see how Trump using the formula, and Hillary not using it drastically affected each side’s followers.
EVERYONE in the Trump camp for over a year continued to harp the message “Make America Great Again”. It was their battle cry, and their justification in the face of opposition. How many times did you see a Trump supporter being interviewed, when asked a question that challenged a Trump policy, say “Yeah but he’s gonna make America great again.”
I can’t think of one Hillary supporter who went around saying, “Yeah but we’re stronger together.”
And remember how this formula draws that clear line in the sand. Do you know the number of times I said, “More like Make America Hate Again”? All of us who said that only drove deeper loyalty in the Trump camp.
Admittedly, there were times when I forgot what her campaign slogan was, because it also got muddled with this message
and this one
and this one:
which puts Donald Trump’s name literally front and center.
FEEL THE BERN
You can even take it back to Bernie Sanders, who followed the formula with “Feel The Bern”. It was a play on words where “Bern” represented “Burn”, and feeling the burn meant being on board with a political revolution. Remember how many in the Sanders camp went around touting “Feel the Bern!”?
Bernie didn’t win the primary, but his supporters stayed in his corner even after he lost, and many of them voted for a 3rd party candidate on election night, taking key votes away from Hillary.
B = AV + AA
But She Technically Won, Right?
Granted, she did win the popular vote, but the reality is that while the American sentiment with Trump winning was disappointment, shock, anger, and sadness, had Clinton won the sentiment would not have been elation. She didn’t have a slogan that created that target audience like Trump did. Many voted for Hillary because there was no other option. The reality is that had Clinton won, America would have let out a collective sigh of relief. Relief that we didn’t elect Trump.
Stronger together was a weak campaign promise. Trump focused on fanning the flames of his raving fans who wanted to Make America Great Again. He knew exactly who his audience was, and concerned himself only with rallying them.
Meanwhile Clinton, bless her soul, tried desperately to appeal to everyone, over every issue. Listen to rapper Killer Mike in this video during the primaries talk about how he likes Bernie Sanders’ consistency, as opposed to Hillary jumping around all the time:
When you try to mean something to everyone, you mean very little to anyone.
And So We Got Trumped
With no raving fanbase like Trump, the most qualified woman in the world to be President of the United States got buried and bullied out of the Oval Office by The Apprentice.
BRAND = ACTION VERB + AUDIENCE ASPIRATION.
Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.